OBSERVATIONS: Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

By: Ashley McCubbin

There have only been two races for the NASCAR Xfinity Series since the return to competition post COVID-19 lockdown, but they’ve both been absolute thrillers to watch. Between some thrilling comebacks and close finishes, you could say it’s been even better than the NASCAR Cup Series.

For starters, the Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway had a more racy feel to it than we saw out of the Coca-Cola 600 right from the drop of the green flag. Now part of that may have to deal with the traction compound, as it always seem to improve with the more rubber laid down on it – so that’s a theory that will be put to test when the Cup Series battles once again on Wednesday.

Though even before the lockdown, it appeared the second-tier in the main ranks had the stronger race package with an ability to battle side-by-side being easier due to the aero package. It seems the Xfinity Series cars are less dependent on clean air, and slipping through the corners enables moves to be set-up.

The battle to close out the second stage between Ross Chastain and Kyle Busch showcased this perfectly, with both of them pulling sling shots, and running up on the back of each other high and low. Arguably, the aggressive nature of both competitors in not backing down makes them two of the most fun to watch. If NASCAR wants a fun rivalry moving forward, developing one between these two would be worthy.

The on-track product was only made better by the balance in the booth as Adam Alexander, Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer proved to be the perfect combination. They were insightful, but not in a way that they are shoving it down your throats. It felt more like a fun laid back conversation, with viewpoints shared in-between a couple jokes. It’ll be interesting moving forward if other drivers in the booth can create the same chemistry, but retreating back tot his squad often could be critical in FOX having success moving forward.

Also, for the record, Bowyer should always be in charge of reaching out to drivers for commentary mid-race as his conversation with Busch was full of chuckles. The honesty in the driver of the No. 54 offering “they’ve been racing me like hell tonight” was spot-on at the time.

End of the day, most fans will call this a great race no matter what they saw on-track, simply based on the battle to the checkered. Although Kyle Busch came up short last week, he was able to find his way to victory lane this time around. Stuck in a late-race restart battle with Austin Cindric, he simply schooled the Xfinity Series regular in the art of side drafting – getting someone just loose enough to get by, but without causing them to wreck.

Though Cindric’s ability fight the Cup Champion for the victory as close as he was on older tires showcases the talent across the board.

Kyle Busch did not make the victory easy on himself, though, as he sped on pit road for the second straight week in a row, this time under green with the last round of pit stops. He got lucky in there being a caution to allow him to take the wavearound, where he drove his way up to fourth before another yellow flag. Now being close to his competitors, and the speed out of the No. 54, that pretty much wrote the writing on the wall.

If the second caution did not fly with 28 laps to go, it would have been interesting to see whether Busch could have caught Austin Cindric for the lead, and if Cindric would have been able to hold off a fast closing Noah Gragson at the time. The potential was there with the ground he was able to make quickly, but yet it makes you wonder what if.

You could also say Busch sealed his fate with the decision to pit for tires, while Cindric and Gragson elected to stay out. The reason for staying out is partially justifiable, considering Brad Keselowski used that strategy to win the Coca-Cola 600 over Chase Elliott on Sunday. However, that was restart was with just a handful of laps to go, and you wanted the track position. But tonight, with several more laps and seeing Elliott go from 17th to third on fresh rubber in two laps should’ve told the tale.

Cindric did not suffer the same fate as others on Sunday in falling back on old rubber thanks to a slew of cautions – three in a row – that helped the pressures equalize for both competitors.

Mistakes were the name of the game on Monday, as Busch wasn’t the only one to suffer a pit road speeding penalty. Chase Briscoe and Brandon Jones suffered the same fate under the last round of stops, with Chastain sliding through his stall and needing a small push back.

While everybody focuses on the lack of practice not allowing teams to set-up the cars as they would wish before the event, it also disables drivers the chance to test their entry to pit road through the session so they can perfect the entry without approaching too quickly.

Ultimately, Briscoe and Chastain’s fate wasn’t just sealed by the pit road issues, but rather contact with the wall when they slid in oil after another car blew up, Briscoe blew a tire due to the damage sustained en route to finishing 20th, while Chastain fought back through the final restarts to place fourth.

Noah Gragson ran inside the top-five throughout the night and had a legitimate shot to score the victory inside the final 50 laps. However, he would get loose off of turn two, going around and collecting others in the process. While he did not score the result he wanted, it showed the continued progress of the JR Motorsports competitor to assert himself into the championship conversation after winning the season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

His teammate Justin Allgaier has shown the same speed since the drop of the initial green flag this season, but has been plagued by bad luck throughout, taking away chances that could easily have turned into victories. The fight in the No. 7 team was on display on Monday, as they worked their way through everything to finish fifth despite fighting with gauge issues all night long.

The amount of strong competitors remains high in the series, though, as you have to also insert Harrison Burton into the conversation, virtue of his maturity level. He went from having a terrible car at the start, to battling inside the top-five in the final 20 laps until contact with Gragson and the wall dropped him back to ninth.

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