CONCORD, North Carolina – Of the 37 cars that started the 63rd running of the Coca-Cola 600, the vast majority of them ended up either torn up, chewed up, spun out or turned over – which included Denny Hamlin. And in spite of all that, it was Hamlin who took home arguably the most difficult edition of NASCAR’s longest race ever seen.
After taking four fresh tires on his final pit stop heading into overtime, Denny Hamlin emerged from a four-wide battle for the lead on the first restart, then held off a charge from Kyle Busch in double overtime to win the Coca-Cola 600 for the first time in his career. With his win, Hamlin became the 12th driver in NASCAR history to win all three of the sport’s majors – the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Southern 500 – and he did so in what was the longest race in NASCAR history at 413 laps and 619.5 miles.
Coca-Cola 600 unofficial results
- # 11 – Denny Hamlin
- # 18 – Kyle Busch
- # 4 – Kevin Harvick
- # 14 – Chase Briscoe
- # 20 – Christopher Bell
- # 8 – Tyler Reddick
- # 47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- # 34 – Michael McDowell
- # 5 – Kyle Larson
- # 48 – Alex Bowman
Towards the end of 600 miles, the finish was shaping up to be a race between Kyle Larson and Chase Briscoe, as Briscoe ran down Larson and made several attempts to pass Larson on the inside line. With two laps to go, Briscoe attempted to put a slidejob on Larson in Turn 1, but the move didn’t stick and Briscoe ended up spinning out to bring out the yellow flag.
The ensuing caution resulted in two split strategies: Larson, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all took two tires, while everyone else from Denny Hamlin on back put on four. The result was an entire swarm of cars charging to the front at the restart. And coming off Turn 4 coming to the white flag, Larson, Chastain, Hamlin, and Austin Dillon were all four-wide for the race lead before Larson hooked Dillon into the outside wall, triggering a multi-car crash that set up double overtime.
After coming out on the other side of the four-wide scrum, Hamlin was able to fend off Kyle Busch on the final restart to take the win.
600 miles of mayhem
After offseason testing at Charlotte saw drivers right on the edge of control in the Next Gen car, there was an expectation that this year’s Coca-Cola 600 may feature a higher level of both on-track action and attrition as a consequence. Those expectations ended up being realized in a race as difficult on drivers and equipment as it was exciting for the sellout crowd that came to witness it.
The yellow flag flew 18 times, with several major incidents mixed in-between self-spins and other issues. Drivers like Kyle Busch, Bubba Wallace, Chase Elliott and Larson all spun out of spots at the front of the field. A dozen cars – including the eventual winner Hamlin – ended up piled up in Turn 2 on a restart.
But the most dramatic crash came with just over 50 laps to go, when Daniel Suarez spun sideways in front of traffic and collected the oncoming cars of Todd Gilliland and Chris Buescher. As Buescher’s car spun through the infield turf, it ended up getting launched into the air and rolled over five times before coming to rest on the roof. Buescher climbed out of his car and was uninjured.
In the end, this year’s Coca-Cola 600 took five hours, eight minutes, and 16 seconds to complete. It was the first time the race took more than five hours to complete since 2005, when the race was slowed by a Cup Series record 22 cautions.
“Worst race of my life.”
If there was any driver who had to go through an odyssey to reach the finish, it was Kyle Larson. Larson had to start 36th after hitting the wall in practice and not posting a qualifying lap, and he marched through the field before a myriad of troubles. Two pit road penalties, a pit road fire, wall contact, a spin off Turn 4, and a partridge in a pear tree.
At one point before the race reached the halfway point, Larson quipped over his team radio that he was having “the worst race of my life”. Shortly after that, crew chief Cliff Daniels rallied his driver with a rousing motivational speech.
“We went from the back to the front more times than I can count. We hit the wall, we spun out, we literally caught on fire. We were also the most penalized team on pit road in the first half,” Daniels said. “All that means is that in the second half, already we’re gonna be starting way better than what we started the first half.
“We’ve got to go execute right now. I don’t really know what the hell you’re worried about, but I’m fine, the team’s fine, everybody down here is nodding their heads and giving a thumbs up. So Let’s go. “
Apparently, that verbal kick in the pants was just what Larson needed. He ended up leading three times for 51 laps, including many of the final laps before the end of regulation. Then, Larson had to recover from spinning in the final big crash for good measure before coming home with a top 10 finish in ninth.
From the finishing order
- With his 48th career win, Denny Hamlin has now tied with Hall of Famer Herb Thomas for the 16th on the Cup Series’ all-time wins list. With his next win, Hamlin will tie another Hall of Famer and one of his former teammates, Tony Stewart.
- Despite another slidejob for the win gone wrong, Chase Briscoe was able to recover with a fourth-place finish. It’s Briscoe’s first top five finish since his first career win at Phoenix in March.
- Despite falling off the pace after wall contact late in the race, Christopher Bell was able to recover and finish fifth by the end of overtime. That caps a terrific month of May for Bell, as he scored four finishes of sixth or better with an average finish of fifth.
- With a seventh-place finish, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored his fourth straight top 10 finish. Stenhouse’s current top 10 streak is now the best of his career, breaking three-straight during the 2017 season.
- Speaking of career milestones, Michael McDowell scored his fifth top 10 finish of the year, matching the career-high mark he set last season. Four of McDowell’s top 10s have come in the last six races.
- Harrison Burton was the top-finishing rookie in 11th, scoring his career-best finish and just missing out on his first-ever top 10.
- Two drivers who benefited from the high attrition level were Cody Ware and BJ McLeod. Ware scored his second top 20 in the last three races with an 18th-place finish, while McLeod matched his season-best finish in 19th.
- Despite issues that led to him being 13 laps down at the finish, Kaz Grala managed to be the last car running in 23rd. That’s a small step for Floyd Mayweather-owned The Money Team Racing, as it’s their best finish in their third-ever Cup race.
The NASCAR Cup Series will meet everyone in St. Louis, as they head to World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway for the track’s very first Cup Series race, the Enjoy Illinois 300 on Sunday, June 5.