NASCAR Barometer:  Ryan Blaney Wins Rain-Delayed Coca-Cola 600

NASCAR Barometer: Ryan Blaney Wins Rain-Delayed Coca-Cola 600

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Rain plagued the Coca-Cola 600 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it was Ryan Blaney who made the most of the situation and was the class of the field en route to his first win of the season. NASCAR's marathon race couldn't get practice or qualifying off prior to the classic race, and further rain caused the race to be postponed until Monday afternoon. Drivers never actually got on the track at speed before the green flag waved. It was a challenging situation, but the race made it to completion despite a brief rain interruption before the halfway mark. Despite the many uncertainties with how the weather would impact the track, the racing was competitive with multiple grooves opening in the turns right from the beginning. The race produced 16 total cautions along with 31 lead changes. While the yellows compounded late in the race it always seemed like Blaney would be in the mix for the win. He and his team made no mistakes, keeping him in contention until the end with 163 total laps led. 

After an extended stay in Charlotte the teams head to the heartland at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. The series first visited the unique oblong oval last season, and it was Joey Logano who went to Victory Lane. The Ford-powered machines came to life Monday at Charlotte, which will be a boost to Logano in his hopes to defend that victory. It will be the first in a string of unique races

Rain plagued the Coca-Cola 600 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it was Ryan Blaney who made the most of the situation and was the class of the field en route to his first win of the season. NASCAR's marathon race couldn't get practice or qualifying off prior to the classic race, and further rain caused the race to be postponed until Monday afternoon. Drivers never actually got on the track at speed before the green flag waved. It was a challenging situation, but the race made it to completion despite a brief rain interruption before the halfway mark. Despite the many uncertainties with how the weather would impact the track, the racing was competitive with multiple grooves opening in the turns right from the beginning. The race produced 16 total cautions along with 31 lead changes. While the yellows compounded late in the race it always seemed like Blaney would be in the mix for the win. He and his team made no mistakes, keeping him in contention until the end with 163 total laps led. 

After an extended stay in Charlotte the teams head to the heartland at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. The series first visited the unique oblong oval last season, and it was Joey Logano who went to Victory Lane. The Ford-powered machines came to life Monday at Charlotte, which will be a boost to Logano in his hopes to defend that victory. It will be the first in a string of unique races as the road courses of Chicago and Sonoma follow in the march toward the playoffs. 12 regular-season races remain with six playoff spots remaining to be claimed for 2023 race winners.

UPGRADE

Ryan Blaney – Good luck finally caught up with Blaney's potential, and the Team Penske driver drove a near perfect race at Charlotte to end his 59-race winless streak. Blaney was fast from the green flag Monday afternoon, and as the miles ticked away it looked more and more likely that he would be in contention for the victory. He first got to the lead on lap 42 and he then scored the win in the race's third stage, which was his first stage victory of the season. In the final stage he stayed at the front, surviving the late race restarts, to outduel William Byron and others for the all-important win that puts him firmly among the playoff contenders. It was a fantastic afternoon for the driver bitten by so many missteps throughout that winless streak, and the team will be hoping the monkey is off their back and that this is just the start of more wins yet to come this season.

William Byron – Byron entered the Coca-Cola 600 race weekend as one of the favorites to win, which is becoming relatively common for the driver of the No. 24. After rain canceled practice and qualifying he immediately jumped to the front. He dominated the first stage and went on to lead 91 of the 400 laps raced. In the end he didn't have the speed to content with Blaney, but Byron's runner-up finish was his seventh of the season, more than any other driver at this point. Byron trails just Blaney and Ross Chastain in the standings with the trio separated by just four points. The current season has been the best of Byron's career, and that should be scaring the garage considering how much he tends to improve during the playoffs. He finished 19th after starting 24th at Gateway last season, and fantasy players should make him a top consideration again this week based on his current form.

Bubba Wallace - Sunday's fourth-place finish from Wallace was a career best at Charlotte. He added stage points to his tally in the second segment on his way to his fourth top-five finish of the season. Even more impressively, if you include the All-Star Race, it was the fourth top-five finish in a row for the No. 23 team. The only blip on the afternoon was a scuffle between he and Aric Almirola on pit road under the rain delay. It didn't seem to affect him the rest of the race, though. Wallace and team now are on a roll sitting 15th in the championship standings with a 31-point gap back to Alex Bowman in 16th. The team seems to be fully beyond their more challenging start to the season and are delivering consistently good finishes now. Fantasy players will be monitoring that trend closely this week at St. Louis. Wallace started the inaugural series race at the track last season in 19th but slipped to the 26th-place finishing position at the checkered flag.

Chris Buescher - The RFK Racing Ford cars were fast Monday afternoon. Buescher and Keselowski both spent a significant amount of time running inside the top 10, and Buescher even scored a stage win in the second segment. Buescher led a total of 12 laps and he held on the last 100 laps to avoid the crashes and survive the many restarts to come home to an eighth-place finish. That was his sixth top-10 finish of the season and third in the last four points races. Buescher now heads to the coming week's race in St. Louis 14th in the standings and making a serious claim to a spot in the playoffs. This will be Buescher's first St. Louis  appearance after missing last year's race following a positive test for COVID-19. The organization as a whole will be hoping some of the momentum they gained from Charlotte help them out this week with another top finish as they work to consolidate their playoff positions.

Kyle Busch - A sixth-place finish with one lap led wouldn't normally be something to brag about for Kyle Busch. However, after an early spin, Busch clawed his way back to the front for his seventh top-10 finish of the season. He continues to be prone to mistakes, like Monday's spin, but dug deep to recover as much as possible from the situation. The mistakes were a known risk for fantasy players choosing him for their rosters, but his recovery from the early misstep was a nice return. He also added stage points from the first and third segments, which help him in the championship standings where he holds a comfortable spot in the playoffs with two race wins this season. Busch was the runner-up finisher at St. Louis last season after starting 12th, and he could be one of the top-tier fantasy selections this week with that and his Charlotte recovery helping to drive him forward.

DOWNGRADE

Chase Elliott - Elliott struggled with his car early Monday afternoon. After running the first and much of the second stage mired in traffic Elliott was pushed into the outside wall by Denny Hamlin. It wasn't the first time in the race the pair made contact, and after Elliott hit the wall his car swerved left and into Hamlin's rear fender, which sent the No. 11 hard into the outside wall. Hamlin immediately called the contact intentional, but Elliott claimed it was not. NASCAR responded by handing Elliott a one-race suspension, similar to what happened last fall at Las Vegas when Bubba Wallace wrecked Kyle Larson. After missing six races with a broken leg earlier this season, Elliott needs as many points as he can possible get, and he only scored three at Charlotte. At 81 points back of the cutline, and that gap only continuing to grow after he misses Sunday's race at Gateway, it appears Elliott is going to need a win to get into the playoffs. That is if NASCAR gives him another waiver. 

Denny Hamlin -  After picking up stage points in the opening segment and leading 20 laps, contact with Elliott ended Hamlin's race before the halfway mark. It appeared as though Hamlin was on his way to another top-10 finish, but it all came to naught with the heavy outside wall contact. Hamlin called on NASCAR to suspend Elliott for the incident, calling it 100% intentional. Regardless of how NASCAR deals with the issue, Hamlin's 35th-place finish was his worst of the season. His win at Kansas keeps him in the playoff positions, but he and the team lost valuable track time Monday as they build toward their run at the series title. Last year's visit to Gateway is best remembered for Hamlin's feud with Ross Chastain. Chastain ruined Hamlin's day, and Hamlin spent the rest of that race trying to ruin Chastain's. Hamlin finished that race 34th, which was one of six finishes worse than 30th last season.

Kyle Larson – What started as a promising race weekend for Larson ended in disappointment. The pre-race favorite struggled from the start, but a tremendous effort on pit road got him back in the mix. The team spent as much time as possible on pit road making adjustments, which enabled Larson to make a run all the way back into the top 10. It was an impressive team effort, but it paid little dividends after Larson got loose on one of the many late restarts and crashed. He collected a number of cars toward the front of the pack and ended his afternoon with a 30th-place classification. This was Larson's second finish worse than 30th from the last four races, but his pace week to week remains among the best and he remains one of the favorites just about every week. He may be again this week despite Monday's crash. Larson started 15th and finished 12th at Gateway last year.

Legacy Motor Club – The Coca-Cola 600 couldn't have gone much worse for Legacy Motor Club. Jimmie Johnson spun and crashed, and he was ultimately the first driver out of the race. Separately, just one lap apart, Erik Jones and Noah Gragson both ingested debris through their radiators and had to head to the garage for repairs. Gragson exited the race and finished second to last, while Jones was able to return to the track but finished 59 laps behind the leaders. All three drivers combined for a total of seven points, which won't do much to help them climb the standings. Jones and Gragson both sit outside of the top 25 in points, and despite some decent showings, don't have much to show from the season thus far. The team is clearly trying to find their way, and they will switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next season.  However, there is no silver bullet and improvement in all areas need to come from the organization.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ross Chastain - Last year at Charlotte Chastain led 153 laps and won the third stage. This year he was nowhere to be found. Chastain started the rain-delayed race in 14th and never became a factor at the front of the field. His best stage result from the race was a ninth-place finish in the second segment following the rain break. It was an utterly disappointing day from a driver and team that has been competitive nearly every single race weekend of the season. While Monday's result was not the worst of the year for Chastain it was one of the first where he was a complete non-factor on the day. It was just the fourth race this season he has failed to lead a lap, and was the his worst result when not leading a lap since Bristol. Fantasy players will be hoping it was just an off week for the No. 1 and he bounced back at Gateway where he finished eighth last season.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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