Dillon utilizes fuel strategy, captures first career win at Charlotte
By Daniel Courson
The victory came in Dillon’s 133rd career start.
For the third consecutive time, Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Truex, however, came up shy due to a fuel mileage race playing out in the end.
“ I think the last few years, we’ve just really hit on some things that work for us here,” he said. “Earlier in my career, Charlotte, I would dread coming here because I felt like it was one of my worse racetracks, I wasn’t very good here.”
“We came back in ’15, and just picked up on that with faster cars. We were getting to where we were running pretty good everywhere. Then we came here. We were just that much better.”
STAGE ONE (LAPS 1-100)
Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick led the opening lap, and Kyle Busch led the next 22 circuits.
The yellow flag flew for the first time on lap 19. A piece of metal debris flew off of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 Chevrolet and punctured the oil cooler on Chase Elliott’s machine.
Brad Keselowski had nowhere to go in that incident, and slammed into the back of the NAPA Chevrolet. That same piece of debris was hit by rookie of the year contender Erik Jones.
After a round of pit stops, Harvick beat Kyle Busch to the line and
reclaimed the lead.
The green flag flew for the second time on Lap 27. Harvick dominated the middle of this stage, leading for a total of 37 circuits.
Danica Patrick elected to stay on the race track during green flag pit stops, leading seven laps. This was the first time Patrick had ever led a lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Patrick pitted on lap 74, resulting in Martin Truex Jr. cycling into the front.
Kyle Busch chased down and passed Truex Jr. Busch would go on to win the stage, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, and Matt Kenseth.
STAGE TWO (LAPS 101-200)
Twenty-two cars restarted the stage on the lead lap.
Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. led the field into Turn 1, with Truex getting the advantage.
Matt DiBenedetto brought out the caution on lap 142 after scraping the wall in Turn 2. During the caution period, a thunderstorm closed in on the speedway, pre-empting NASCAR to throw the red flag and bring the cars down pit road one lap later.
The red flag was displayed at the flag stand for one hour and thirty-nine minutes.
The green flag flew on Lap 153, with Martin Truex pulling ahead by half of a second on the first lap. Six laps later, Jimmie Johnson reeled in Truex Jr. and was right with the leader for over fifteen laps.
On lap 174, Danica Patrick cut a right front tire and brought out the fourth caution of the event. During pit stops, Kyle Busch got around Jimmie Johnson for third. Ryan Blaney went behind the wall due to a mechanical failure. Paul Menard stayed out and brought the field to the green flag.
Truex Jr. quickly got around Menard in the first turn, and Menard ended up falling back to fourth by the time they made it back around to the start/finish line.
Martin Truex Jr. picked up right where he left off of last year, by leading at the half-way mark. This was his sixth stage win in the 2017 season.
Jimmie Johnson came in second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch. Twenty-two cars finished the second stage on the lead lap.
STAGE THREE (LAPS 201-300)
Martin Truex Jr. led the field to the green flag on Lap 206. Johnson spun his tires on the restart, allowing Kyle Busch to move into the second position.
The fifth caution of the evening came out on Lap 245. Kasey Kahne made serious contact with the wall entering Turn 3. Kevin Harvick, while running 10th, spun through the middle of Turn 4 and down pit road all due to fluid being put down on the track by Ty Dillon in the No. 13 car. Trevor Bayne and Kyle Larson received damage.
Johnson led the field to the green flag, but he was no match for Martin Truex Jr. Truex Jr. The New Jersey native took the lead off the second turn, and Johnson settled into second place.
The sixth caution of the evening came out on Lap 292, as Kyle Larson lost a right front tire and slammed into the Turn 2 wall. The damage was too extensive for Kyle Larson to continue the race. He would unofficially finish in the 33rd position.
Ricky Stenhouse elected to stay out on the track, and did not get a good start because of the bad tires on his car. Truex Jr. lined up behind Stenhouse, and was held up due to the poor start.
Denny Hamlin put 1.3 seconds between him and second place Kyle Busch in the three lap shooutout. Hamlin captured his second stage win of the 2017 season.
STAGE FOUR (LAPS 301-400)
Denny Hamlin took the green flag on Lap 306 alongside Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Hamlin dropped down to the seventh position in the opening lap of the fourth stage.
Busch swiped the lead from Hamlin in the first turn, as Truex took it three wide into the turn.
Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. battled for the lead for the opening 15 laps, but eventually Truex Jr. settled in the second position.
Danica Patrick brought out the yellow flag for a second time on lap 329 after making contact with the outside wall in Turn 3.
Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. battled for the lead on the restart on Lap 332, and Truex had a one second lead by the time he reached the backstretch.
Jimmie Johnson stayed out on the race track. Johnson led 30 laps before running out of gas on Lap 398.
With two laps to go, Austin Dillon assumed the race lead and went on to win the fourth stage and claim his first career victory.
This win was Austin Dillon’s first of his career and second top-10 at Charlotte, joining the ranks of Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray who also earned their first career victories in NASCAR’s longest race of the year.
Richard Childress Racing now has two victories in the 2017 MENCS season, after going winless for 127 races before Phoenix earlier this year.
31 cars were running at the finish of the race. 17 drivers finished on the lead lap.
10 drivers led at least one lap during the race.
Ryan Willard/The Racing Experts