Turn 2 Blog: Coke 600 chaos, Indy 500 red flag, and Denny Hamlin’s title chances

*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.

There certainly was no shortage of dramatic ups and downs in the Coca-Cola 600 was there?

Richard: All you have to do to show how many ups and downs there were in that race is to follow the time line of Kyle Larson’s night. The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion had to charge from the tail to the front no less than five times due to pit road mistakes and driver errors. Still, he was in contention for the win at the end of the race.

Several other drivers had somewhat similar nights in a race that proved to the longest in NASCAR history in terms of distance(413 laps for 619.5 miles). The race lasted well over five hours as well. A total of 18 caution flags and one red flag slowed the action. Still, with all that was going on, it did not seem like it took that long. I have been to and/or watched races that took less time on the clock but felt much longer.

The race featured pretty much everything a fan could want. There was plenty of passing throughout the field including 31 lead changes, strategy plays as tires became an issue, crashes, and a dramatic finish. There were several drivers who looked to have everything under control at various points during the night only to have things slip away in the end either because of crashes, pit road mistakes, or mechanical issues.

The 2022 Coca-Cola 600 played out like a race might have in the 1970s or 1980s and that’s not such a bad thing.

Kyle Larson had un up and down day in the Coke 600

Michael: This is the race I have been waiting for from the Next Gen car. We have seen some good races from it and a few snoozers. That’s to be expected. But we have been told the Next Gen car was supposed to fix racing on the 1.5-mile tracks that dominate the NASCAR schedule.

To this point, there haven’t been many races on 1.5-mile tracks. Las Vegas was a decent race as teams had their first crack at that configuration. They turned Atlanta into a “restrictor plate” track so I don’t count that at all. The All-Star race at Texas was a joke, but that track has not been good since the reconfiguration of turns 1 and 2 a few years ago. Kansas was a good race. For me, the Coke 600 was the first true test of these cars on this type of track.

I will say one of the best races I have ever seen at Charlotte was the 2000 fall race. I don’t recall the number of lead changes, but it was a lot. The race was like that from beginning to end. I think this Coke 600 topped that one. There weren’t as many lead changes as that 2000 race, but there were so many drivers in contention on Sunday night.

The Indianapolis 500 was red flagged with six laps remaining to assure a green flag finish. Is it time for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to institute a Green/White/Checkered finish policy?

Richard: For a long time, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been on a high horse in regard to maintaining the “purity” of the racing event and having it run to the advertised distance yet they have shown a willingness to throw a red flag near the end even when not warranted to assure a green flag finish. I’m not sure how that maintains “purity”.

I think it’s time for IMS to get off of that high horse and institute a Green/White/Checkered policy so that fans who buy tickets and viewers watching from home will know that they will get an actual race to the finish line rather than a coast under caution. Heck, even high and mighty Formula 1, right or wrong, gave fans a green flag ending in last year’s championship deciding race.

As a fan, I don’t care about the advertised distance nearly as much as I care about an exciting finish. And as mush as the purists don’t want to admit it, racing and all sports are about entertainment. Fans don’t high-five each other over the fact that a race finished under caution but stuck to its principles regarding race distance, they get excited over cars battling across the finish line.

You and I cover more dirt racing than anything else. Rare is the time that a dirt race has only done the advertised number of laps since they don’t even bother to count caution laps. All racing is done under green flag conditions. While that wouldn’t be feasible for NASCAR or IndyCar, a Green/White/Checkered finish is.

Michael: I think the Indy 500 should institute a Green/White/Checkered finish. They kind of did that yesterday. But had the caution waved on lap 198 instead of lap 194, they couldn’t have done that.

You’re right, fans don’t pay good money or invest their time to see a race finish under caution. There seems to be a bit of an empty feeling when one ends that way.

I’ll say this, it was refreshing to see a 500-mile race with no stage breaks.

Denny Hamlin earned his second win of the season in Charlotte

What does Denny Hamlin’s win in the Coca-Cola 600 say about his championship chances?

Richard: I think Denny Hamlin, along with many others, is certainly a contender for the NASCAR Cup Series championship this season but I’m not sure that chaotic race says anything about his title hopes. He did start from the pole but even with that, he only led 15 of the 413 laps that eventually made up the race distance. He was able to avoid all of the craziness that took place and then be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the misfortune of others.

Hamlin’s season has been a highlight reel of ups and downs. He does have two wins, but at the same time, he only has three total top-5 finishes in the first fourteen races and ranks 17th in the overall standings. To illustrate those ups and downs, the No. 11 Toyota has finished outside the top-20 on seven occasions. But of course, he will be in the NASCAR Playoffs because of those two victories.

He, along with William Byron and Ross Chastain, is one of only three drivers to have multiple wins this season. While one might reckon that his inconsistency would be a hindrance when it comes to title contention, that is not necessarily so under this current format. Simply winning at the right time can result in a championship trophy at the end of the season and this driver and team have shown the ability to do that.

Michael: Hamlin has had an odd season. He does have 2 wins, but his season has kind of resembled Kyle Larson’s chart in the Coke 600 – up and down. I think the team needs to be more consistent to be a title contender.

On the flip side, the calendar is about to flip over to June. There is still a lot of time to find that consistency. Right now, I can’t say any driver is very consistent other than Ross Chastain.

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