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Takeaways going from Charlotte to Gateway

CONCORD, N.C. — Mile and a half racetracks have returned to prominence in year two of the NextGen car, and Monday’s Coca Cola 600 was no different. 

Ryan Blaney winning his first race in 59 races only begins to scratch the surface of Monday’s crown jewel.

As if the NASCAR news cycle in 2023 needed more storylines, the Coke 600 added more than its fair share. Here are a few. 

Ryan Blaney wins his first cup race while leading over 100 laps 

It was hard enough to believe it had been 59 races since Blaney’s last victory. He led 163 laps on Monday. Before Charlotte, the most he had led this season was 47 at Talladega. There, he and Bubba Wallace collected each other at the front of the field on the final lap. 

But oddly enough, all of Blaney’s career wins prior had seen him seemingly steal the win at the end. The last time he led over 100 laps was the 2022 Cup Series championship, leading 109 laps. He did the feat two other times in 2022, each coming in the spring races at Phoenix and Richmond. 

Cautionfest

The Coke 600 boasted a whopping 16 cautions throughout the day, the most in the Cup Series this season.

For comparison, the Bristol dirt race, a race you’d expect a lot of cautions, had 14. The only paved track to have double digit cautions was Kansas with 11. You could easily blame the length of the race for the increased cautions. Apart from Kansas, though, Charlotte had at least double the next paved track for cautions. 

It’s no secret the aggressiveness of the racing in the Cup Series has taken a step up this season. Multiple drivers have complained about the lack of respect on the track throughout the season. 

As the saying goes, cautions breed cautions. With a spree of cautions late in the final stage on Monday, fans saw this on full display. A combination of the win-and-you’re-in mentality, the heightened aggressiveness and the race length brewed a perfect recipe for cautions. 

Tensions amongst drivers remains high

Just three weeks removed from Ross Chastain’s right hook landing on the jaw of Noah Gragson, two more pairs of drivers saw tensions boil over on Monday.

On the track, Chase Elliott earned himself a one-race suspension by intentionally turning Denny Hamlin on the frontstretch, ending both of their days.

On pit road, Aric Almirola shoved Bubba Wallace during a rain delay after the two raced each other hard during stage two. 

The move by Elliott resembled Wallace’s move on Kyle Larson in Las Vegas last October, which NASCAR also responded with a one race suspension.

Alimrola wasn’t punished for his shove, meaning NASCAR has maintained its precedent in both situations, something they had struggled with recently. 

NASCAR, in recent seasons, has had trouble getting drivers to show more personality, so the drama amongst the field may be a welcome sight for NASCAR who is searching for an increase in ratings, even if it means suspensions in some instances. 

New week, same drivers in contention

Coming off a season with a new racecar and 19 different winners, the Cup Series has somewhat stabilized when it comes to driver consistency.

Nobody has embodied this consistency more in 2023 than William Byron, who finished second on Monday. He likely could’ve won the race had a spree of cautions not forced multiple restarts.

The 23XI Racing camp of Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick have become mainstays in the top 5 this season. They finished 4th and 5th respectively on Monday. It’s likely only a matter of time before 23XI visits victory lane once again.

Another driver who’s consistency has really picked up in 2023 is Kyle Busch. While finishing 6th on Monday, Richard Childress’s new superstar has consistently kept the No. 8 car at the front of the field and in contention. Busch has put Childress right back in title contention, something the team couldn’t confidently say for years. 

The NASCAR Cup Series now heads to the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway for the sold-out Visit Illinois 300.

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