Charlotte Race Report
Joe Gibbs Racing brought three of the fastest cars in the field to Charlotte Motor Speedway tonight, but when the longest race of the season had ended only Denny Hamlin would have a strong finish to reflect the team’s overall speed. Hamlin would finish fourth, while an accident ruined another strong night for Matt Kenseth, and an engine issue left Kyle Busch to finish 38th.
It was a night that included one of the most bizarre moments in racing and in sports in general, when a cable on the network television aerial camera broke on lap 123 and shot across the racetrack causing damage to several cars including the No. 18 of Kyle Busch as well as unfortunately injuring several fans. The race would have to be red flagged as NASCAR removed the cable from the track and allowed teams the opportunity to repair any damage to cars.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota from the pole after setting a track record in Thursday evening’s qualifying session and he would lead the first six laps of the night before settling into the fifth position while battling early tight conditions. As day turned to night Hamlin continued to run in the top five and the handling on his car began to improve. He was running fifth when the race reached lap 200 of the scheduled 400 laps. Hamlin would show great patience through the second half of the race remaining near the top five of the field while managing to avoid several late accidents. He would restart fourth with 11 laps to go, but as was the case most of the night, Hamlin was not as strong on the short runs. He was able to retain the fourth spot to the finish.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota from the third position but was fast from the outset as he settled into second at the drop of the green flag and then passed his teammate Hamlin to take his first lead on lap seven. He was running second behind Busch before a fast green flag pit stop by the No. 20 crew allowed him to regain the lead just before the halfway point. Kenseth would pit for a scheduled green flag stop on lap 304 but a caution would follow just a couple laps later before many of the other leaders had pitted. That left Kenseth a lap down and forced to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap. That would leave him to restart 13th, but at the back of the field as a wave around car. Kenseth would attempt to fight his way back toward the front of the field but he got caught in an accident when the 48 spun on lap 335 and the right side of his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Camry would get significant damage that required several stops down pit road for repairs. Although the 20 team did a great job keeping the car on the lead lap, the handling was way off from the damage and he would fall two laps off the pace during the next green flag run. Despite leading three times for 112 laps, Kenseth would have to settle for taking the checkered flag in 15th.
Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms MProve America Toyota in the eighth position, but was able to climb through the field during the early going to take his first lead on lap 75. Busch was leading on lap 123 when a cable on the network aerial camera broke and came down across the race track. Unfortunately the cable would catch the right front of the No. 18 Camry causing significant damage. NASCAR issued a red flag caution and gave teams 15 minutes to work on any related damage. The M&Ms crew did amazing work to fix the damage which allowed Busch to restart the race still in first. Busch would grab the lead on the restart and continued to hold it until his teammate took over following the next round of green flag stops. As the race reached the midpoint Busch was running second behind Kenseth. Shortly thereafter Busch would radio in that he had a problem with his engine and when a caution came out on lap 259 he would bring his M&Ms Camry to pit road. The team would go under the hood and it was determined that Busch would not be able to continue. Despite leading 65 laps on the night, he would have to settle for finishing a disappointing 38th.
Kevin Harvick won the race, followed by Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top five. There were 11 cautions for a total of 61 laps including two red flag stoppages and the race had 24 lead changes among 12 different drivers.