Sunday, May 29, 2011

Rating the Coca-Cola 600: 3 Stars ***

Memorial Day weekend is arguably the best racing weekend of the year, and it certainly has been this year with nail-biting finishes that literally came down to the final turn. The first three-quarters or so of the Coca-Cola 600 was worthy of 2 Stars and the finish was worthy of 4 Stars, so the entire race gets a 3 Star Rating.

Kevin Harvick usually comes out of nowhere to win his races, but this was the most unlikely win of them all. He sat between 20th and 25th for the first part of the race and was yelling at his team about how terrible the car was.

The next time we heard about him he was fifth in line for the final restart. Even at that point he wasn’t looked at as much of a threat because of all the cars and issues in the first two rows.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove one of those cars and took off on the final restart and drove away from the field. As he came through the frontstretch to take the white flag it looked like this was finally going to be that magical race Earnhardt Jr. fans have been waiting for so long. Some fans may have even done a double take.

Is that really the #88 car out in front on the final lap? After the years of disappointment, it looked like this win was finally possible. There was no lapped traffic, and the caution laps had to preserve some fuel, right?


The #88 machine simply ran out of gas coming into Turn 3 and the guy who seems to always be in the right spot at the right time, Harvick, drove by to take a very unexpected victory.

Although there is heartbreak and frustration for Earnhardt Jr. fans to have their driver come so close to winning, it is a positive he drove a very good race and this team is starting to perform at a winner’s level week in and week out. That first win is always the hardest.

Harvick went through a similar stretch after his 2007 Daytona 500 win. It took until the spring race at Talladega last year to finally crack the code to Victory Lane again in a points event. Once that first win happened, several more followed, and now he is even running into a few just for having four wheels and an engine that runs.

Sure, Harvick drove a hard race to get into position to have a chance, but he said in Victory Lane this win was a gift. But, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good because any win, no matter the path, is very difficult to achieve.

As for the overall quality of the race, the majority of the 600 miles were similar to both the Dover race and the All-Star race the past two weeks. Maybe it’s because summer-type weather has finally arrived, but all of a sudden teams are having a difficult time keeping up with the racetrack and it is hurting the quality of racing.

Unfortunately, there’s little reason to think any of that will change next week in Kansas, and several of the same drivers should be a factor there. Kansas Speedway is the same length and a fairly similar configuration to Charlotte. Plus, Ford drivers have run well at Kansas in the past and right now they have the best cars in the field on intermediate tracks.


  1. Okay, if we are averaging yes 3 stars! That finish was crazy good though. Heartbreaker for Junior - surprised not to be reading more about the conspiracy to not throw the yellow so he could win when the 31 was wrecking....

    Wish Ragan or Marcos could have snuck up there for the win but it was great to see some new faces in the top 10 (and Kurt!)

  2. I actually quite liked this race. Down-to-the-wire finish, interesting crashes, tragedy for some, joy for others (aka, anyone who doesn't like Kyle Busch). I would've given it 4 stars, but its your article, not mine.

  3. klvalus - That thought went through my head as well, but more than half of the field might have run out if they'd have gone to a second green-white-checkered. Plus, with all those cars low on fuel, the second restart might have looked the same as the last one. I think there were more factors than Junior in this one, but maybe I'm just naive.

    theoneandonlynickyv - Joy for Junior-haters too. I wish FOX had a good shot of the crowd to see what the reaction of the fans were. They were certainly loud as the cars went down the backstretch. I didn't hear them too much as they came to the finish, but maybe that was because so much other stuff was going on.