What Are The Crown Jewels?
The debate is getting brought up because we’ve reached what should be the second crown jewel of the NASCAR schedule. We know the Daytona 500 is one of them. We know the Brickyard 400 used to be but due to the move to the road course, probably falls off the list.
So, what rounds out the crown jewels on the schedule since NASCAR overhauled the schedule? Is it four races or does it shrink to three? I mean, who said you have to have four crown jewels?
The Coca-Cola 600 is surely in consideration. So is the Southern 500. I think you have to have each on this list. So, do we stop there or add a fourth again?
Is the fourth Bristol dirt? Is it the Bristol night race? Is it one of the two Talladega races? That’s all up for debate. But, what’s not debatable is the ‘600. The thing is, did the ‘600 now the second biggest race of the season?
Will Next Gen Provide Another Thrilling ‘600?
Last year the Next Gen delivered. We saw the most lead changes (31) since (2014) and almost as many cautions (18) as the previous three races on the oval combined (19). Cars were harder to drive. They were slipping and sliding and making for 600 miles of action packed racing.
Does that happen again?
Lets hope so because the previous version made Charlotte go from two annual races on the oval to one. The race was bad.
The longest race of the season was one of the most boring too. It had become a show dominated by one singular driver too. It’s made a lot of folks wonder if we need 600 miles of racing to get to the same end product.
Martin Truex Jr. led 392 of 400 laps in his 2016 win. Kyle Busch followed that up with leading 377 of 400 laps in 2018 only for Truex to lead 116 laps in his win in 2019. Alex Bowman led 164 laps in 2020 but didn’t win. His teammate, Kyle Larson, did reach victory lane a year later after leading 327 of 400 laps in 2021.
Prior to last year, the previous 12 Charlotte oval races saw the eventual race winner lead at least 91 laps in 9 of them with 7 of those 9 leading at least 115 laps.
Last year, we didn’t see that. Will we again on Sunday?
Can Chase Elliott Snag A Crown Jewel?
Chase Elliott has won 18 NASCAR Cup Series races including a championship in 2020. He’s also the five-time defending Most Popular Driver. However, he’s yet to win a crown jewel. Does that come on Sunday night?
Elliott is 0-for-8 in the Daytona 500 with just one Top-5 finish (runner-up in 2021).
Elliott was 0-for-6 in the Brickyard 400 with just one Top-10 finish (ninth in 2019).
Elliott is 0-for-7 in the Bristol Night Race.
Elliott is 0-for-8 in the Southern 500 with just one Top-5 finish (5th in 2018).
He’s also 0-for-8 in the Coca-Cola 600.
Does that change on Sunday?
Elliott’s won at Charlote in the past, it’s just not been in the ‘600. He does have four Top-4 finishes in his last five oval tries at Charlotte though including a runner-up in this race in 2020 and 2021, a win in the 2020 return race and 33rd last year after leading 86 laps. He was also runner-up in the Fall race on the oval in 2017 too. To have five Top-5 finishes and six Top-10’s means he’s close.
The thing is, with how strong HMS has been this season, maybe Sunday night is Elliott’s turn to score his first crown jewel.
Are The Toyota’s The Ones To Beat?
The Toyota’s have bar none been the best at Charlotte in recent years. They’ve won five of the last eight Coke 600’s. The question is however, was 2020 the start of their fall on the 1.5-mile North Carolina race track or was the 2022 race their resurgence?
A Ford in Brad Keselowski won the ‘600 that May while a Chevrolet in Chase Elliott won the second oval race a few days later. The Toyota’s paled in comparison from 2020 to years prior.
In 2021, Chevy dominated again with taking 5 of the top 6 spots in the finishing order. The thing is, Toyota’s were right there second in class with having 2 cars in the top 7 too.
The thing is, they were 4-6-29 in the 2020 ‘600 with all 87 combined laps led by Martin Truex Jr. and 2-9-29 in the second race.
For 2021, they went 3-7-24-29 with 7 total laps led.
Last year, the returned to form with Denny Hamlin reaching victory lane. Kyle Busch was second to give Toyota a 1-2 result again. Christopher Bell was fifth as Toyota scored three of the five spots inside of the Top-5 last Memorial Day weekend. They didn’t have to lead a ton of laps to win though too.
The 23XI Racing camp led three combined laps between Kurt Busch’s two and Bubba Wallace’s one. Truex and Bell didn’t lead a single lap. Busch led 36 and Hamlin 15.
They still won in the end.
What happens on Sunday?
They swept last year with a ROVAL victory too.
Can Team Penske Pull Off Memorial Day Sweep?
In all these years of the Coca-Cola 600 and Indianapolis 500 sharing the stage on Memorial Day weekend, not once has a team swept both races. The most notable teams going for it are Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing. Neither have been able to pull it off and now that Ganassi is out of NASCAR, it’s all up to Penske now.
For a team like Penske who’s won 18 Indy 500’s, you’d think one of those 18 years would have lined up with a Coca-Cola 600 win. However, it never has.
Penske has won the ‘600 twice (2010, 2020). In both instances, they didn’t win the Indy 500 that day prior. Does it line up this year?
Penske is on a three race Indy 500 winless drought, but they look more primed to win this year than they do in Charlotte.
Joey Logano has just one Top-5 finish in his last 10 Charlotte oval starts including being 21st, 22nd, second, 13th, 17th and 20th in his last six Coke 600 tries.
Ryan Blaney was third in both races in 2020, but those are his only Top-5 finishes in 12 Charlotte oval starts. The last two years he was 13th and 29th respectively. Blaney has led eight total laps too including two laps each in four of the last five oval races.
Austin Cindric was only 34th last year.
Does that tide change on Sunday?
Since 1974, both races have occurred on the same prior. Prior to that, Indy was on Memorial Day itself while Charlotte was on the Sunday.
It was not until 1974, however, that both races competed head-to-head on the same day, due to Indianapolis’ policy of not racing on Sundays prior to that.