NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 was more distractions than actual racing

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA - MAY 26: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning a weather-shortened NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2024 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by David Jensen/Getty Images)


The Coca-Cola 600 turned into more like the Coca-Cola 150.

The fact that Christopher Bell won the rain shortened event, however, wasn’t the story Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A crown jewel, normally NASCAR’s longest race on the schedule was one filled with distractions at the track and away from it.

Kyle Larson grabbed the attention in the week leading up to the race. He was attempting to be the fifth driver in NASCAR history to complete the famed Indy-Charlotte double, racing in both events on the same day. That quest never really had a chance as rain at Indy delayed the start of the 500 and denied Larson his historic bid. That delay also meant that backup driver Justin Allgier would start the Coke 600 in Larson’s No. 5 Chevy, the stock car version, with Larson slated to get to the track after the 500 and take over.

According to NASCAR’s rules, Larson wouldn’t earn any championship points, and will need a waiver to be a part of the driver’s title pursuit this season. That decision was one of many scenarios that the collective team had ready all the while insisting the final one would be a ‘game time’ call.

Kyle Larson finishes 18th in rain-delayed Indianapolis 500 debut

In the end, Larson started the Indy 500 two hours past the scheduled start time giving NASCAR fans something to look at as the pre-race concert, featuring Matchbox 20 got underway.

That was the first distraction. Speedway Motorsports, the owner of Charlotte Motor Speedway, always stages a patriotic lead up to the Memorial Day weekend race with howitzers booming, and enough troops to stage its own war, complete with helicopters assaulting the front stretch.

Bagpipes play Amazing Grace, a 21-gun salute is rendered, and Taps echoes across the speedway before the command to fire the engines is given. Sunday evening however, all that was lost among the flurry of activity that only a former U.S. president arriving can stir up. Former president Trump’s arrival drew a crowd on pit road as he slowly led a mass of humanity to the pit box for one of Richard Childress Racing’s cars where he found a seat and the race finally took the green flag.

Normally the Indy 500 happens long before NASCAR’s event and the track broadcasts it on its large screen along the back stretch, but not so Sunday night. With the Indy 500 still in its infancy as the 600 was also in its early stages, thousands of small screens showed the Indy 500 happenings and the public address announcers kept the crowd apprised of Larson’s progress in Indiana. Larson ran most of the race in sixth spot, but a late race penalty for speeding on pit road thwarted his efforts for what would have been an improbable win. He did lead at one point during a round of later pit stops eliciting a roar from the Charlotte crowd that could be heard over the roar of engines on the track.

Ryan Blaney’s hopes for a Coke 600 repeat get blown

Meanwhile on the track, William Byron, polesitter Ty Gibbs and Bell swapped the lead with the fight eventually coming down to Byron, who won Stage 1, and Bell who took Stage 2.

Being the presumptive Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency and the campaign coming in November, Mr. Trump in full campaigning politician mode, drew the attention of many as he moved via a convoy befitting a former U.S. president to the other side of the track and the comfort of a suite. All while Ryan Blaney, last year’s 600 winner, lost a tire, slammed the wall, and was forced to retire from the race.

During the presumptive Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency’s suite move a banner with his name hanging over an infield fence facing the track, was ripped off that fence setting off a fight between two groups of fans who were in obvious disagreement.

Another of the NASCAR Memorial Day weekend traditions is the Moment of Remembrance, the halfway point of the race when the field is brought down pit road, engines turned off, and a moment of silence follows. It’s normally a poignant moment meant to honor those lost in defense of America.

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 26: Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks on during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2024 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

This year however, the presumptive Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency appeared, somewhat awkwardly, on top of the suites looking out from the roof and waving to the crowds below further muting an already somber moment.

Not long after the helicopter carrying Larson arrived. Unfortunately, the same rain that delayed the start of the Indianapolis 500 seemed to follow him. As soon as Larson ran to his pit box ready to race, lightning struck nearby, the rain picked up and after a delay of just over two hours of futile drying efforts the race was called, and Bell declared the winner.  Larson too was also denied a chance to even turn a lap in a stock car.

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – MAY 26: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 H1100 Chevrolet, arrives during a weather delay and prepares for the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2024 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Those fans who remained booed the announcement that the race was called. And in one final distraction after the final fans left, the track seemed to remember one final thing igniting the fireworks meant to go off after the winner took a checkered flag. Being a bit damp though instead of an explosion of color, the fireworks seemed to fizzle out in a limp display of what could had been.

The win was the 18th of Bell’s career and his second of the season.


Photos: NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday May 26, 2024

Greg Engle