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May 28, 2024

NASCAR’s Elton Sawyer: Conditions, late-hour timeline led to Coca-Cola 600’s halt

NASCAR official Elton Sawyer said Tuesday that challenging track-drying conditions and the prospects of an early morning finish led to the decision to end Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 before its scheduled distance – and that making these types of decisions are never easy and include a variety of considerations.

Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, offered those remarks during a regular appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Morning Drive” program.

Heavy rain and lightning at roughly 9:30 p.m. ET stopped the NASCAR Cup Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway with 249 of the 400 scheduled laps complete.

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Safety crews deployed track-drying equipment, but humidity and the amount of rainfall slowed the progress, and competition officials declared the race official at 11:30 p.m. ET, with Christopher Bell as the winner.

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“Mother Nature played havoc with racing all over the country this past weekend and we had to deal with it Sunday night, unfortunately,” Sawyer told SiriusXM. “We did everything we could when we had the rain shower — a lot of water fell in a short period of time. We knew at that point it was going to be a challenge. We were up for it; we attempted to get the track dry, it just wasn’t going to come in.

“As all of that started unfolding, looking at the timelines and the amount of racing we needed to complete the race, 151 laps, we were looking at well past 2 a.m., which just didn’t feel right for our competitors or our fans alike, and all the workers that had been there all day. Unfortunately, we hated to have to get to that point, but that’s where we landed.”

Sawyer noted that NASCAR’s experience with track-drying operations informed those decisions. Sawyer also noted that Kyle Larson’s inability to turn laps in the 600 after his late arrival from the Indianapolis 500 was an unfortunate consequence.

Larson’s appearance in his pit stall coincided with the arrival of Sunday’s storm in Charlotte, and he did not replace stand-in driver Justin Allgaier in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet when the race did not resume.

“Every situation is different depending on the weather conditions after it stops raining, the humidity and things of that nature,” Sawyer said. “The things we have full control over, the Air Tundras and all the drying equipment there, once it stopped and we could start the drying process and then communicate with our folks on the ground who have great experience and have done this for many years, they get a feel pretty quick for where we’re at. We wanted to make a run at it. We knew it would be a challenge, but we for sure wanted to give every effort we could because our fans deserve that. A lot went on Sunday with the Kyle Larson back-and-forth, and to see him in the car Sunday night would have been great. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”

Sawyer added that NASCAR officials worked hand-in-hand with broadcast partners, plus the track and its support staff, to make the call, acknowledging that the timeline of completing the longest race on the Cup Series schedule had pushed into the wee hours of Monday morning.

“I think if you just take experience from the past and you learn from that, and these decisions … ultimately it’s our decision, it’s a NASCAR decision, but we do work closely with our folks at Speedway (Motorsports), work closely with our TV partners to get to the right decision,” Sawyer said. “If you look closely at how that day unfolds, and there’s a lot of people behind the scenes that are there early in the morning to get the facility ready, local law enforcement officers that are directing traffic, things of that nature. … You take all of that into consideration. But ultimately trying to get to the end of the race, when you start to get into that timeline, again, 1:30-2 am range, and then by the time you dropped the checkered flag — and this is all based off us having a clean race to the end. You get into a multiple caution-flag situation, then you’re looking at 2:30-3 a.m. So you have to take all that into consideration. Again, not a decision we wanted to make, but one we had to make at that point in time.”