There was a 61-lap green flag run in the middle of the final stage of the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday (May 14), and the field looked to be set up for a quick run to the finish after the conclusion of green flag pit stops on lap 263.
Kyle Larson cycled to the lead after the end of pit stops with 31 laps to go and had set sail with a two-second lead over Christopher Bell with just under 20 to go. At that moment, it looked like no one would be able to run down the No. 5 car.
Everything changed when Ryan Newman spun with 18 laps to go to bring out the yellow flag. Cautions breed cautions, and by the time the checkered flag waved, all the dominant cars of the afternoon had crashed each other out of contention.
Had the remainder of the race stayed green, the finishing order would’ve been reflective of what had happened in the first 275 laps, with a little variation here and there. Instead, three restarts (and two crashes) in the final 15 laps shuffled the finishing order as if the drivers were a deck of cards.
Martin Truex Jr., Ross Chastain, Larson, Joey Logano and Tyler Reddick all finished in the back half of the field after crash damage. Bell had a loose lug nut and dropped to the rear before the first restart, while winner William Byron, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch were able to avoid most of the calamity to score top-10 finishes.
When looking at the drivers in the top 10 before the cautions, it looks like a random number generator from 1 to 36 was used to determine their fates at the checkered flag.
|Driver||Position at 18 to go||Finish|
|Martin Truex Jr.||9th||31st|
It’s almost as if Darlington was two races: one in the first 275 laps and a second in the final 20.
It’s been a common theme for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season. Of the 13 races in the history books, eight of them either ended under caution or had a final green-flag run shorter than 10 laps.
The last year to more have more short sprints to the finish was 2014, which had nine in the first 13 races. The number had declined in the second half of the 2010s decade, but that number seems to be trending upward in the 2020s.
|Season||Race with a <10-lap green flag run to finish or finish under caution
(first 13 races)