HOT/NOT: Charlotte’s record-sized HD TV is a game-changer

Sunburned, curiously, only on the right half of my body and still dazed by the bajillions of megapixels hung above the Charlotte backstretch, I'm back from a weekend in fan mode at the Coca-Cola 600. Let's dive in to 600-miles of hits and misses.

HOT: Charlotte Motor Speedway's much-promoted and much-hyped new video board (the 200' by 80' behemoth that they're calling the world's largest high-definition television) very much deserved the promotion and the hype. Frankly, it's the best advance in fan amenity I've seen by a NASCAR track in several years.

Suddenly, the entire track (save for the souls in the turn two grandstand) has a single source for each and every happening during an event at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That's important, I think, because it helps establish a more unified and aware crowd. That's an effect that could prove substantial for selling tickets in the future because even the most casual of fans can feel involved and in-the-loop of a sometimes confusing event.

That being said, the screen is just stunning in itself. It's perfectly visible even during the sunniest parts of the day and the replays are crisp from any direction. There's no doubting CMS' use of the video board will (and should!) lead other tracks to follow suit. The small, trailer-stationed video boards have quickly become obselete.

NOT: CMS, never a speedway dull on searching for a buck, even sold t-shirts celebrating the backstretch screen. I feel kind of bad for those who felt parting with $16 for that shirt was a good move.

HOT: It would have been fantastically cool to see how the hometown fans would have celebrated hometown boy Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulling into victory lane after the Coca-Cola 600. A track that has long been a thorn in his side coupled with The Streak finally coming to an end would have made for some raucous post-race fandom. {ysp:more}

But despite Junior losing it in the final lap (fuel is expensive these days, am I right? Kidding.) there should be no doubt that his revamped approach and the terrific chemistry new crew chief Steve Letarte brings has put the No. 88 in position to be a contender down the stretch of 2011. Earnhardt was fast all night around Charlotte's 1.5 miles, and you've got to think that will translate well to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

NEUTRAL: Kyle Busch didn't win a thing this weekend at Charlotte. That alone is enough to be concerned about Mr. Lead Foot, right? Sarcasm aside, Busch's night at CMS ended so very strangely. Early in the going, Busch looked untouchable as he led 55 laps.

By the time the night was over, Busch had spun twice on his own and finished 32nd. Strangely, the last time Busch led exactly 55 laps at Charlotte (2005) he also struggled to the end, finishing two laps down in 25th.

NOT: I realize that NASCAR changed their weekend schedule many years ago to put Sprint Cup final practice before any support series races. Knowing that, it's still remarkably dumb to field the final two practices during the heat of the day for an event that will be run mostly at night.

It seems a tweak would require major changes to the 600 weekend's schedule, but something should be done.

HOT: Count me in among those who thought Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wouldn't come close to finishing his first Sprint Cup race. After all, 600 miles at Charlotte is quite the arduous drive for a driver not anywhere near used to the length of a usual Sprint Cup race.

Instead, Stenhouse wound up 11th as the super sub for Trevor Bayne in the Wood Brothers' No. 21. He also was one of the most aggressive drivers on restarts all night, as he found himself picking up spots typically three-wide and up high.

NOT: Did you know Jeff Burton doesn't have a top 10 in all of 2011? Mired now 22nd in the Cup Series points, Burton finished a lap off the pace in 21st Sunday night. With teammate Kevin Harvick finding wins here, there and everywhere, Burton has to be grindingly frustrated by now.

HOT: Cheers to Marcos Ambrose are indeed in order. The Australian placed sixth Saturday night for his second-straight top-10 finish and fourth of the season. You've got to know that the first win is coming soon for Ambrose. He's running too well for it not to.

NOT: I'm pretty sure Lee Greenwood's rendition of "God Bless the USA" prior to Sunday night's race at CMS was about the 387th time he's performed the song at a NASCAR event. It was a struggle, too, as the 68-year-old strained for high notes and missed on the long ones.

I don't like lip-synching, but if Greenwood's patriotic tones are to remain requisite at NASCAR races, we might need to consider it.

HOT: Last, I'll bring you a slight bit of personal commentary. I don't happen to be a cigarette smoker, and for the first time, the section at CMS where we were seated was deemed non-smoking by the track. Several grandstand areas were either designated smoking or non-smoking for Sunday night's race.

This being a free country (something we, of course, celebrated Sunday night at CMS) I realize there are those who choose to smoke. It's a fact of life, and I'm not crusading against those people. Instead, I'll say this: it's seriously nice for CMS to give those who don't smoke the option of being away from it.

Going a bit empircal, I do know several people who have given up on attending NASCAR events due to the high probability of cigarettes being lit all around them. For a sport that can use every fan it can get, it's smart to cater to each side of the fence. Good work, CMS. I hope other tracks follow suit with the now-continuing trend.

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