NASCAR has had the worst luck with Mother Nature since their return to action a week in-a-half ago. Out of the first three NASCAR Cup Series races back, three of them, all consecutively, have been affected by rain in some sort of fashion.
Last Wednesday nights Toyota 500 at the Darlington Raceway saw a 90 minute delay because of rain at the beginning and the race. It also ended 20 laps prior to the scheduled distance due to more rain drops falling. Then, Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway was rain delayed by over an hour just after they got the race going due to rain too. Now, this weeks Alsco 500 was postponed from Wednesday until Thursday due to a washout from Tropical Storm Bertha.
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So, what will happen when we do get to race on Thursday night? I expect the race itself to look very similar in terms of being hard to pass and track position being key. But, that’s going to change a lot in regards to the teams and drivers too.
First off, the race is nearly half the distance. Sunday was 600 miles and this one just 312. Secondly, the race features an invert. The top 20 finishers in the Coke 600 will flip at the start of Thursday night — meaning race winner Brad Keselowski starts 20th, second place finisher Chase Elliott 19th and 20th place finisher William Byron on the pole and 19th place driver Alex Bowman coming from second. Get it?
That means in theory, that the fastest cars will come from the middle of the pack on back right? Yes and no.
Byron and Bowman actually had two of the faster cars on Sunday anyways. Bowman, led a race-high 164 laps and was first, first and second in the three stages in his No. 88 Chevrolet. Byron, was ninth, fourth and 10th respectively himself. The only reason that they finished where they did is Byron suffered a tire problem at the end of the race and Bowman got loose on the final restart and lost several spots as a result of that. Now, they have the coveted clean air at the start of Thursday nights race with two known fast race cars. Byron, started in the pole for the 2019 Coke 600 and finished ninth too.
Also, Austin Dillon starts seventh and too was in the top 10 for all three stages on Sunday. His last win actually came at Charlotte in 2017. Joey Logano rolls off eighth, finished second in last years ‘600, to go along with being fifth, seventh and first in the three stages on Sunday night.
Others like Kurt Busch (14th), Martin Truex Jr (15th), Kevin Harvick (16th), Kyle Busch (17th), Ryan Blaney (18th), Elliott (19th), Keselowski (20th), Denny Hamlin (29th), Clint Bowyer (39th) and Jimmie Johnson (40th) are coming from Row 7 on back. That’s why this race is different. They have 312 miles not 600 to come up through the field with dirty air.
“It’s going to be tough with the invert,” said Martin Truex Jr., who finished sixth in the 600. “I think that’s going to be a big deal after everybody gets a chance to work on their cars and the track just seemed like it was really one groove and really, really difficult to pass during the 600.
“You give everybody two or three days to work on their cars and everybody is going to be closer yet. The invert is going to be a challenge in the shorter race for sure.”
He’s not wrong. Plus, look at the guys coming from the mid pack on back anyways. Keselowski, stole the win as he was 15th, 12th and eighth in the three stages. Three of his last five Charlotte starts resulted in finishes of 15th or worse.
His teammate in Blaney had seven of his nine Charlotte tries result in 13th or worse. Kurt Busch only led 54 laps on Sunday because of clean air from starting on the pole. He faded when he lost it and has one top five in his last 12 Charlotte starts. Kyle Busch, while having five top sixes in his last seven starts at Charlotte, has led only 14 laps all season long and none since Daytona. The speed just isn’t there this year yet. He even said so on Sunday in saying that he lucked into his finish. So did Harvick. He has had a top 10 finish in all seven races run in 2020, but was 14th, 11th and 19th in the three stages on Sunday and has just two top fives in his last eight Charlotte tries. Johnson hasn’t won in 103 races now, Hamlin is without his crew chief, car chief and head engineer and Bowyer has just one top five in his last 23 Charlotte tries.
So, with all of them with dirty air at the start on a one groove race track during a shortened race, their only way up is pit strategy but don’t you think the cars up front already will use the same strategy?
That’s why Bowman, Byron, Logano, Dillon and evening Tyler Reddick are going to be the ones to beat.