Wild Finish Bites Hamlin, Big for Logano!
The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the annual test of endurance on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for drivers and their race teams as they try to stay up on the ever changing track conditions with the heat of the day transitioning over to cooler night time temperatures over the course of the 400 laps.
Late on Sunday night the Coca-Cola 600 would come down to fuel conservation and Joey Logano would benefit from having enough in the tank to earn a third-place finish, while Denny Hamlin ran out just before the finish to come home in 10th. An accident late in the race would spoil a solid effort by Kyle Busch who was forced to settle with a 32nd-place finish.
Joey Logano started the No. The 20 Home Depot Toyota in 23rd position and battled tight conditions early as he battled through the first quarter of the race back in the 27th position. The Home Depot crew would make adjustments with each stop to improve the handle on the car as Logano raced his way to just inside the top 20 with less than 150 laps remaining. A fortunate break with a caution coming out just prior to the team’s scheduled pit stop on lap 282 would help Logano improve his track position as he came down after the yellow flag and would lineup on the restart in the 11th position on lap 286. He would enter the top 10 for the first time just a few laps later and would race as high as the sixth position. Pit strategy would bring Logano down for tires and fuel with just under 100 laps remaining and that would put him back in the 20th position once again. He would manage to move The Home Depot Toyota into the top 20, but it appeared he might have to settle for a finish in the middle of the pack. However, Logano would benefit greatly from having just enough fuel to get to the end when several leaders fell short. He would take advantage by climbing all the way up to third. It was a well earned and well deserved finish for Logano and The Home Depot team after having experienced several late-race misfortunes earlier this season.
After a strong qualifying effort Thursday evening, Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in the fourth position and quickly raced his way forward to claim the top spot by lap 81. Hamlin would spend much of the night racing inside the top five. Despite the results, Hamlin felt an engine issue that cost him power on the straightaways. Crew chief Mike Ford made the decision to come down pit road to replace the carburetor under caution with just over 100 laps remaining. The decision cost a great deal of track position, although the FedEx crew was amazing in making the change quick enough to keep the No. 11 Camry on the lead lap. Hamlin would have to restart back in the 26th position, but he finally would have the extra power he had been missing. He climbed into the top 20 with 82 laps to go and raced his way into the top 10 by the time 50 laps remained. The fix would work as suddenly Hamlin’s car was back to race-winning quality as he entered the top-five. But in the closing laps Hamlin would have to back off the throttle in hopes of saving enough fuel to get to the end. It nearly worked, but a late caution extended the race two more laps. Just as it appeared that the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota would win when race leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. ran out of gas on the final turn of the race, Hamlin found himself on empty as well. He would on to finish 10th.
Kyle Busch started his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in the 21st position and spent the first quarter of the race working his way into the top ten. Quality driving along with two outstanding pit stops by his M&Ms pit crew put him into the eighth position by lap 100. He would move up into the top five through much of the first half of the race and would finally claim the lead with just over 150 laps remaining. Busch would hold onto that lead for much of the final third of the race. Pit strategy with just under 100 laps remaining would take him out of the lead position and shuffle him back into the 20th position. As Busch was racing hard to move back toward the front he would get loose off of turn 4 and took a spin through the grass. Fortunately there was no major damage to the No. 18 Camry and Busch was able to remain on the lead lap and restart in the 21st position. Busch would race hard to try and make up for the lost track position, but unfortunately as he attempted to gain position he would make contact with the wall on lap 343 and the damage would essentially end his night. Busch would have to settle for a disappointing 32nd-place finish despite leading 55 laps on the night.
Kevin Harvick captured the victory, while David Ragan finished second, Logano was third, Kurt Busch was fourth and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top five. There were 14 cautions for a total of 64 laps and 38 lead changes among 19 different drivers over the course of the 402-lap race, which was extended two laps for a green-white-checkered finish.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to Kansas next weekend. The race will be televised live by Fox on Sunday, June 5 at 1 PM ET starting with pre-race coverage at Noon ET. The race will also be carried on Sirius Radio NASCAR channel 90.