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The Coca-Cola 600

The Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway is the annual endurance test on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Often times it can feel like two races and not only because of the necessary 400 laps to complete the full 600 miles around the mile and a half speedway, but also because of the changing track conditions when the heat of the day changes to the cool of the night once the sun sets behind the grandstands.

It proved once again to be a challenging night for many of the 43 cars who started the race with only nine cars able to remain on the lead lap and complete all 400 laps. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch proved strong throughout the night to capture second and third respectively, while teammate Joey Logano battled handling conditions and had to settle for a 23rd-place finish.

A strong qualifying effort allowed Hamlin to start the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota eighth tonight and he was patient through much of the first half of the night, content to run just inside the top ten. As the conditions on the track changed with the transition from a very warm day to a pleasant night, crew chief Darian Grubb was able to deliver just right the changes to the FedEx Camry and Hamlin quickly jumped into the top five. The FedEx pit crew was outstanding yet again throughout the race and he would move to the front of the field for the first time on lap 308. Hamlin would lead twice for 13 laps and was running just behind the leader, Kasey Kahne, when they came down pit road for a final time under green flag conditions with 45 laps to go. Once again the FedEx team was quick in the pits and helped Hamlin close the gap on the leader and although he made a strong run for the lead, he just wasn’t able to get there and settled for a strong second-place effort. Hamlin is now third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, just 16 points behind the leader Greg Biffle.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Red, White, and Blue Toyota 15th, but wasted little time in moving his way forward and into the top ten. With a strong race car and outstanding work by the M&Ms pit crew, who managed to gain the team several positions on the track despite while pitting under green flag conditions, Busch was able to climb his way into the top five rather quickly, and was running third by lap 100. He would claim the lead for the first time on lap 121 and Busch would go on to lead three different times for a total of 55 laps. In the end he just wasn’t able to get back up to Kahne and Hamlin with the race ending on another long green flag run. His strong third-place finish was his fourth consecutive top-five finish and moved him up to eighth in the current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings.

Logano qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota 19th and was hoping to continue his trend of running well at a track he considers among his favorites on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. Unfortunately the team was never able to dial in on the proper handle for the No. 20 Camry tonight. With several long green flag runs to start the race leaving very little time for the Dollar General team to work on the car, Logano would fight to remain on the lead lap, but like so many others on this night, he would ultimately fall a lap down to the leaders. With so many competitors a lap down and additional long green flag runs, Logano was not able to make up the lost ground and was forced to settle for a disappointing 23rd-place finish. He is currently 16th in the point standings.

Kasey Kahne claimed his first victory of the season, with Hamlin second, Busch third, Greg Biffle fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five. There were five cautions for a total of 23 laps with 31 lead changes among 11 different drivers.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will head to Dover International Speedway next week. Coverage of the race from the Monster Mile will be broadcast live by Fox starting at 1 PM ET (pre-race show starts at 12:30 PM ET). You can also keep track of all the action by following @joegibbsracing on twitter.