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Race Report: Charlotte

Matt Kenseth led Joe Gibbs Racing with a third-place finish in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch joined his teammate in the top-ten with a strong ninth-place run, while an unscheduled pit stop resulted in Denny Hamlin losing a lap to the leaders that he could never recover resulting in a 22nd place finish.

Kenseth started his No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota 12th and was able to move into the top ten over the course of the opening green flag run and his team provided an outstanding stop that allowed him to move all the way into fourth following the opening round of pit stops on lap 51. He would drop back to eighth over the course of the next green run but his pit crew delivered again and he was back in fifth on lap 100. A caution on lap 108 would bring Kenseth back down pit road for four fresh tires and he would restart fourth on lap 113. He continued to hold the fourth spot when a caution came out on lap 163. When the race reached halfway Kenseth found himself in eighth and The Home Depot crew would make adjustments on the next round of pit stops to help him turn better in the corners. Kenseth restarted 11th on lap 227 but used a tremendous restart to jump to fourth and was running third on lap 250. He would take his first lead of the night on lap 271 and continued to hold the top spot on lap 300. Kenseth would lead a total of four times for 33 laps on this night. He would use a tremendous restart on lap 384 to regain the lead, but Jimmie Johnson was able to reel in the 20 car and make the pass with eight to go. Kenseth would go on to finish third.

Busch qualified his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota seventh, but was involved in an accident during Saturday’s final practice session forcing the team to pull the back-up car off the hauler for today’s race. That left Busch to take the green flag for the start of the race from the back of the field, but he was able to climb his way through the field over the course of the opening run. He was just outside the top twenty following the opening round of pit stops on lap 51. Unfortunately there were no cautions over the first quarter of the race and the poor track position would catch up to the 18 when Busch dropped a lap down 80 laps in. The first caution of the night would come on lap 108 but the M&Ms team would decline the opportunity for the wave around and opted for fresh tires. He would restart one lap down in 21st on lap 113. Busch would get back on the lead lap 50 laps later when he received the lucky dog designation as the first car one lap down when a caution came out on lap 163. The M&Ms Camry was 16th at the halfway mark and then lined up 13th for a restart on lap 227. By lap 250 he had entered the top 10 where he would race for the remainder of the night. Busch was up to sixth on lap 300, but just wasn’t able to crack the top five on this night. Needing one more pit stop to ensure making it to the end on fuel, the 18 team would call for Busch to come down pit road on lap 367, which was a bit earlier than the other challengers in hope of gaining track position. A final caution would come out on lap 378, but Busch was unable to get around the leaders and went on to finish ninth.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota in sixth and was patient through the early going as he raced inside the top ten. He was still in top ten when he came to pit road for a second time just prior to lap 100 but when he returned to the track and was back up to speed he reported a vibration. With 300 laps remaining, crew chief Darian Grubb called for the 11 to come back down pit road to take four fresh tires. The move fixed the problem but left Hamlin two laps down. A caution would come just a few laps later allowing him to get one of the two laps back. He would restart one lap down in 29th on lap 113. The cautions would not fall in favor of the 11 team however and Hamlin was never able to get back on the lead lap as long green flag runs were commonplace on this night. Hamlin would go on to finish in 22nd.

Jimmie Johnson won the race followed by Kevin Harvick, Kenseth, Carl Edwards, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 44 laps and 34 lead changes among nine different drivers.

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