There’s nothing more ironic at a NASCAR race when silence is the loudest part of the event.
Little-to-nothing of significance occurred during the longest race on the NASCAR schedule Sunday night, which led to the biggest talking point of the evening being the moment of silence the series held following the second stage.
As has been the case during the last month of the season, Hendrick Motorsports has put a stranglehold on the Cup field as they won their third-straight race and sixth of the year.
Kyle Larson, finally, wasn’t just the dominator, he was the closer as he ran a perfect race out front en route to the victory. He led 328 of the 400 laps, which comes just short of Martin Truex Jr.’s dominance back in 2016.
Larson is now a two-time winner in 2021, becoming the third driver to win multiple races alongside Truex and Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman.
Sunday night was less of a competitive bout and more of a 600-mile procession for Hendrick engineers as they are at the top of their game at the moment. Due to the dreaded word that no one wants to utter about the on-track product, there’s nothing Hendrick’s competitors can do to close the gap in the race and defeat them on slick strategy.
The night served as the perfect foil to the Indianapolis 500, a race that consisted of multiple pit strategies and a handful of lead changes that threw the entire event for a loop in who were the true contenders. It wasn’t until the final pit cycle of the day where those contenders came to light.
At Charlotte Motor Speedway, the contenders revealed themselves from the get-go and it never changed. (Spoiler alert: It was Larson)
Maybe, one can contribute to the lack of competition of the untimely and flat-out even stage breaks. Four 100-lap segments sounds like an All-Star Race gimmick more than a race that counts toward a championship. Within those 100 laps, all drivers needed to do was split the stage in half for their pit stop and not make a mistake.
By the time the race began, wherever you ran by lap five was going to be where you finished.
Kyle Busch had his hand in the cookie jar, but merely pulled crumbs out as he foiled Hendrick’s chance of getting another 1-2-3-4 finish.
While the sweep didn’t happen for Hendrick, they’ll take the consolation of becoming the all-time winningest team in Cup Series with their 269th victory, surpassing Petty Enterprises.
Sunday night marked the third-straight 1-2 finish for Hendrick as Chase Elliott came home second.
Another unsurprising event of the evening was Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing committing another unforced error to ruin a potential top-10 run. Following stage three, the team was penalized for an equipment interference as an uncontrolled tire found its way to Chris Buescher’s pit stall. Wallace ended the night in 14th place.
Speaking of Buescher, he’s having quite the underrated season as he scored his third top-10 finish in the last five races. He’s certainly earning his spot within the top 16 at the moment.
Richard Childress Racing continues to have great performances from both of their drivers as Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick both scored top 10’s. It is the third time this season that both of them ended up in the top 10.
If it wasn’t bad enough already for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2021, Cole Custer, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe all finished outside the top 20 naturally and were out-ran by Corey LaJoie and Michael McDowell, who finished just ahead of them.
In 2017, the NASCAR community was at least open to stage breaks because it was new. Now, the lack of competition because of the cautions has ruined the nature of racing. Everyone sees right through the garbage and Sunday was a slap in the face to competition.
If Sunday wasn’t bad enough, stage racing will rear its ugly head even more when the Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway next weekend.
Unofficial Playoff Standings: