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Melillo’s Mind: Coca Cola 600 recap, NASCAR’s Aero Dilemma, and a trip to the Indy 500

Kyle Busch 2018 Charlotte
Kyle Busch races during the 2018 Coca-Cola 600. Photo: Erick Messer/The Racing Experts

Kyle Busch made history Sunday night by concluding his quest to win at all 23 active Monster Energy NASCAR cup series tracks.

The victory was his fourth of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, and was his 188th career win in NASCAR’s top three National Series.

Busch dominated the event, leading 377 of the 400 laps. He finished ahead of Martin Truex, Jr., who came home second, and Denny Hamlin, who finished third.

“This one’s very special,” Busch said. “I don’t think there’s anything that can top Homestead, just with the meaning of what the championship is, but the Coca-Cola 600 – I’ve dreamt of this race since I was a kid and being able to win this race. Always watching the All-Star race and then the 600 the following weekend and being able to come out here and now win the Coca-Cola 600 is just phenomenal.

Busch won all four stages, sweeping the event, and earning a grand total of 70 points for his efforts.

“It’s a little boy’s dreams come true and man, I just want to say that I thank NASCAR, for one, for giving me a chance to come out here and have this opportunity to race for my dreams and to accomplish those things,” Busch said. “I don’t know if it’s ever been done before, but the first one to check off all the tracks and get it all done. I don’t want to go to any new ones.”

Kevin Harvick, who started 39th, wound up finishing 40th after an incident in stage one took him out of the event.

AERO WOES

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Kevin Harvick races during the Coca-Cola 600. Photo: Erick Messer/The Racing Experts

The Coca-Cola 600 was a complete 180 from last week’s All-Star event, which featured a new, and seemingly more competitive, aero package.

Instead of having a record amount of lead changes, the event this past weekend ended with only nine lead changes, most of which took place during pit stops, which is a stark difference from the All-Star race.

The track surface was treated with traction compound, better known as PJ1, but unfortunately did not offer the same racing that the new aero package had at the All-Star Race.

With that said, Kevin Harvick was still able to work his way from 39th to fourth before his tire blew out and ended his race. It is unknown that if Harvick had stayed in the race, that it would have been a better event to watch between the No. 4 and the No. 18.

I think NASCAR shot themselves in the foot by bringing the All-Star package without a contingency plan to have it as an option for the Coca-Cola 600. With as good of a race that we had one week prior, it’s really unfortunate that we didn’t have the same in one of the marquee events of the season.

Like I said last week, the proposed aero package needs work. It is not the perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction, and if we had the option to run it in the Coca-Cola 600 and multiple races down the line, not only with the racing get better immediately in the 2018 season, but it would also help for the future.

WILL POWER PREVAILS AT INDY

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Will Power celebrates on the Yard of Bricks after winning the 102nd Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo by Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media

The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 took place just hours before NASCAR’s longest race of the season, and hours after Formula 1’s event at Monaco. This year, I had the opportunity to take a trip Westbound to Speedway, Indiana, to witness my first ever IndyCar event, which just so happens to be the biggest one of them all.

The morning of the race, I donned my No. 12 hat, my Verizon pit shirt, and my sunglasses, and drove to the worlds greatest spectacle in racing. Along with approximately 350,000 other attendees, I witnessed Will Power take the checkered flag, in what I consider to be the best race of the day.

It was hot, and my lack of sunscreen was concerning for a bit, but the overwhelming emotion that I felt to watch the driver that I’ve pulled for for almost 10 years now in my second favorite form of Motorsports is something I will never forget, and I will always cherish.

Just before halfway, Power took over the lead with a fantastic pit stop from his Team Penske pit crew. Up until that point, it was the duo of Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan who were dominating the race.

I got a little worried for Power with about 45 laps to go when the caution flag flew. It was his teammate, Helio Castroneves, who spun out of Turn 4 and into the pits, and it seemed that there were many drivers willing to gamble on pit strategy.

Just under 30 laps to go, Power pitted from the lead and dragged Carpenter and Alexander Rossi in a few laps later. The Australian driver was able to maintain his lead over the others that had pitted, but a handful of cars remained on the track attempting to stretch their fuel, including Scott Dixon and Stefan Wilson.

Power caught Dixon and got around him, but another caution with just about 10 laps to go made things very interesting. All of the cars that had stayed out on pit strategy continues to stay out, and on the ensuing restart, were able to hold off Power.

Coming to four laps to go, Power was up to third, but it looked like Wilson was going to ride on to victory.

Unfortunately for Wilson and others, they would not have enough fuel to make it to the end. Wilson and Jack Harvey pitted, while Power drove around them to take the lead for the final time and onto his first career Indianapolis 500 victory.

Ed Carpenter finished in second, while Scott Dixon saved enough to finish third.

I understand that the race itself was not the most exciting of races, but being a fan in the stands at my first ever IndyCar event, and watching my favorite Indycar driver win his first Indianapolis 500, it’s just an incredible feeling.

I laughed, I cried, and I had to sit down while others stood and cheered. I felt someone pat me on the back as I took it all in. It’s just amazing to have witnessed history, that one of Indycars greatest drivers has checked off what maybe you could consider the final box needed in a successful, complete IndyCar career.

UP NEXT

Pocono Raceway logo
Dominic Aragon/The Racing Experts

This weekend, I will be in route from Indianapolis to Pocono Raceway to cover the Pocono 400 for The Racing Experts. This will be the seventh straight Pocono NASCAR race weekend that I’ll have the opportunity to cover for this outlet, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Pocono is such an underrated track, for its ability to provide out-of-the-box racing, differing strategy, and surprise winners.

Last year, Ryan Blaney captured his first and only career NASCAR cup series victory, holding off Kevin Harvick in the closing laps.

Two years ago, and what could be considered one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history, Chris Buescher held off the fog and the torrential downpours to capture his first and only NASCAR Cup Series victory.

I’m not going to go too crazy with my picks this weekend, because although it could end up being anyone’s race as I mentioned before, I think that Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, without question, will be the two drivers to look for this weekend.

It seems, through 13 races this year plus the All-Star event, that it’s either one or the other stealing the show. Right now Kyle Busch is hot after his dominating performance at Charlotte. Kevin Harvick, however, was just as fast, if not faster then Kyle Busch, until his tire gave out and relegated him to a 40th place finish.

The race weekend is shared with the NASCAR Xfinity series, which will take place Saturday afternoon at 1 pm ET.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event will take place on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, and I’ll be there to cover them both live, so stay tuned for coverage!

Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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