If you missed out on Charlotte Sunday you might’ve looked at the results later, and thought you missed out on a pretty predictable first race in the round of 12. However, while the final result was mostly predictable (Truex wins just like nearly every mile-and-a-half track) I would describe Charlotte as an interesting experiment which yielded a very predictable result, but also some very unexpected occurrences. Here’s what happened:
Looking at the finishing positions, Truex got the win, Chase Elliot continued to improve, and wound up with another 2nd. Harvick had a good day, and finished 3rd. Denny Hamlin wound up 4th, Jamie McMurray and the #1 team stepped up in a big way, and grabbed the last spot in the top 5 (and 9 stage points). The rest of the top 5 went: 6. Suarez, 7. Johnson, 8. Blaney, 9. Kahne (bet he wished he’d done that well in every race of the first round), and 10. Larson, who would’ve finished a lot better had they not had trouble in the pits and some really unfortunate restarts. Most noticeably, you’d see Kyle Bush way down in 29th after wrecking multiple times.
Some relatively uncommon names showed up on the stage points list, and that’s because the track crew at Charlotte laid down a “sticky layer” in the top two groves in the turns to add some grip. The unforeseen result was that there was a LOT of grip on the top according to the drivers, but a little before halfway it all dropped off. That meant some exciting racing while the top was still sticky, and more interestingly, it seemed like most of the field was suddenly a lot faster than the 78 car. As the race progressed though, and everybody’s handling began to suffer when the grip wore off the top of the track, Truex drove through the pack without any trouble.
In the end, the experiment with the sticky strip might’ve had a small effect on the points standings, but not a whole lot on the final results. On a track with progressive banking it’d work great to lay down that strip on the bottom groove so that drivers could pass down low or up high, but for Charlotte that’ll have to wait for a repave. Personally, I’m hoping that Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR do this again next year, but experiment find a way to make it last longer, and have just slightly less grip so that it’s possible to pass on the bottom.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that, while this was only one race so it’s difficult to say conclusively, the first half of this race would seem to suggest that the 78’s advantage is not in horsepower, as Keselowski and others have speculated, but more to do with grip. His car seems to do best when other drivers aren’t able to get the power down in their cars.