You have to hand it to NASCAR and Monster Energy as they put their heads together to try and bring the sport one of the best All-Star races of all time. They went back to the original format and even gave the teams a special set of soft tires to use whenever they felt it was to their best advantage. The atmosphere that surrounded the entire evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway was electric, but the only problem was that once a driver got the lead in clean air it was almost impossible for someone to pass him.
The Monster Energy Open started the star-studded night by providing three drivers with the opportunity to drive their way into the All-Star race by winning one of the three stages. Clint Bowyer won the first stage and Ryan Blaney won the second stage as each driver dominated his stage by leading all 20 laps. Daniel Suarez won the final 10-lap stage, leading all but one lap as Chase Elliott did manage to lead lap 47 of the 50-lap event.
The Open race turned out to be a prelude of what was to come as the All-Star race was only able to produce three lead changes. The first two 20-lap segments were dominated by Kyle Larson as the pole sitter took advantage of his starting position and led every lap of the first two segments. The first lap of the third 20-lap segment was led by Blaney, but he was quickly passed by Jimmie Johnson who went on to lead the remaining 19 laps to win the segment.
The 10-lap final segment had been built up in the preceding weeks as a “take the gloves off and boys go at it” sprint to grab the checkered flag. The excitement of the final segment only lasted as long it took Kyle Busch to make an incredible move on the restart to pass Brad Keselowski. Once he got in the lead, he was never challenged for the lead on his way to grabbing not only the checkered flag but also a check worth a million dollars.
On the night when you add up all of the segments from the two races there were seven different checkered flags with seven lead changes, but only three of them took place after the first lap of a segment. Once a driver took the lead and had clean air, he was able to drive away from the field.
Even with all of the changes that NASCAR mandated this season to take away downforce, passing a leader in clean air can be difficult especially on the mileand a-half tracks like Charlotte. It really has nothing to do with the rule changes that included reducing the size of the spoiler; it is all about how much talent that works in the Monster Energy garage. The crews that spend long hours preparing cars for each stop of the schedule are so good at what they do and many of the cars that take the green flag at each race are so equal that the driver in clean air has the only advantage he needs to make it to victory lane.
The results from Saturday night are not a good omen for what to expect on Sunday when Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts the longest race on the schedule. The 400-lap, 600-mile Coca-Cola 600 has been known to lack action and you only have to look at last year’s race when Martin Truex Jr. led all but eight of the 400 laps to see how hard it is to pass the leader.
NASCAR has added a fourth segment to Sunday’s race as it will now be contested with four 100- lap segments. Adding segments will add excitement throughout the event, but the addition of another segment will not do anything to address the problem of passing the leader. A final 100-lap segment will require at least one pit stop, which may make passing the leader easier on pit road with a quick stop by your crew than making the pass on the track without the aid of being in clean air.
Event: Coca-Cola 600
Track: Charlotte Motors
Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval,
24o of banking in the turns)
Date: May 28, 6 p.m.
Defending race champion:
Martin Truex Jr.