CONCORD, N.C. — After 619.5 miles of racing, including two bouts of NASCAR Overtime, Denny Hamlin prevailed through it all to win his first career Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night (May 29th). On the final restart, Hamlin was able to hold off his teammate Kyle Busch to score the win.
Hamlin only led 15 laps of the 413 laps completed, despite starting from the pole more than five hours earlier in the evening. On the final round of pit stops, he took four tires while the four cars in front of him all took two. The mix of two and four tire gamblers led to a fairly large pileup which resulted in Hamlin taking the lead.
“I knew that they were all going to drive in way too deep, so I actually backed up the corner so I got a good run off because you just never know what can happen and it kind of just played out luckily how I was hoping,” Hamlin said post-race.
The victory marks 48 total for the Chesterfield, Virginia native in his storied career. It is also Hamlin’s second on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series calendar, the other one coming at Richmond Raceway back in April.
“It’s the last big one that’s not on my résumé,” Hamlin said of the victory. “Man, that was a fortunate win for us.”
The race saw four stages in total, with Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain taking wins in their respective stages. In total, there were 18 cautions for 90 laps, 31 lead changes among 13 drivers, and only 16 drivers finished every lap of the event.
“The worst race of my life!”
Kyle Larson’s weekend started off with a fast lap in the opening round of practice, followed immediately by a visit to the wall. The resulting damage kept Driver 5 from putting down a qualifying lap, which meant he’d have to start from the back.
The team didn’t go to a back-up car as they spent the time to fix the damages. Clearly, the car was quick enough to cut through the field, but it was the amount of times that Larson had to do it that was both impressive and concerning.
After fighting his way to the front half of the field, Larson would fall to the back after removing equipment from the box. That wouldn’t be the first time he got the penalty, either. Other reasons Larson went to the back included the crew letting tires roll away, a fiery pit stop, and at one point, wall contact and a spin.
Over the radio, Larson called it the “worst race” of his life before halfway as the issues kept compounding on top of one another. Still, as others kept falling out, Larson kept creeping towards the front.
Eventually, Larson did find his way to the lead with 47 laps to go in regulation. As he attempted to hold off a challenge from Chase Briscoe, the caution flew with two laps to go as Briscoe spun it. After taking two tires, Larson would need to both hold off other two-tire takers as well as the four fresh tires that would start fifth.
Unfortunately for Larson, he was caught up in one last skirmish as he battled for the win. The spin didn’t completely kill his car, but it did take him out of the battle for the win with his “worst race” ever resulting in a ninth place effort.
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES OVER, AT LEAST!
One of the more interesting occurrences during the longest race of the season came in the final stage when Chris Buescher got some serious air time. As the race wound down, Daniel Suarez and Briscoe made contact, resulting in a dangerous spin by Suarez in front of the pack.
Todd Gilliland piled in and sent Suarez spinning in the opposing direction. At that point, as the rest of the field attempted to miss, Buescher got sent sideways and was collected by wrecking into Suarez. The contact was not too significant, but it did prove to cause a major issue.
As Buescher started to slide through the astro turf on the frontstretch, his front tire assembly became unattached from the chassis. The wheel would get caught underneath the frame as the car traveled over the turf, and it caught in a way that popped the car straight up into the air.
As it came back to earth, the car barrel-rolled multiple times until it finally came to a rest upside down. Track workers were able to get him righted on what was left of all four tires after a time, and Buescher was able to climb out under his own power.
TRIPLE CROWN WINNER?
A somewhat contested debate surrounds what races would constitute a NASCAR Crown Jewel event. Obviously the Daytona 500 would be a part of it as the biggest race of the season, but what else should be included? Most people will say the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway should be.
In that case, Hamlin should count himself as one of NASCAR’s few Triple Crown winners in their storied history books. Sure, many people also counted the Brickyard 400, but now that the Indy race is on the road course instead of the oval, a trio of top tier races arguably sounds better anyway.
“It’s a big one,” Hamlin said. “It’s one of the three majors we’ve got in our sport and it’s one that I haven’t won. To be part of the Coke family for as long as I have, to finally win is awesome.”
Hamlin already has three Daytona 500s and three Southern 500s under his belt. Despite never owning a Brickyard 400 victory, now Hamlin can say he’s got three Crown Jewels after finally scoring the elusive Coca-Cola 600.
The NASCAR Cup Series will make its debut at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway next weekend for the inaugural Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter. While the venue has been a part of previous NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series seasons, this will be the first Cup race ever.
Leaving Charlotte, Chase Elliott continues to lead the overall standings over Ross Chastain by 34 points. Catch the action next Sunday (June 5th) at 3:30 p.m. ET over on FOX Sports 1.
Coca-Cola 600 Top 10 Results
- #11 Denny Hamlin – Joe Gibbs Racing
- #18 Kyle Busch – Joe Gibbs Racing
- #4 Kevin Harvick – Stewart-Haas Racing
- #14 Chase Briscoe – Stewart-Haas Racing
- #20 Christopher Bell – Joe Gibbs Racing
- #8 Tyler Reddick – Richard Childress Racing
- #47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr – JTG Daugherty Racing
- #34 Michael McDowell – Front Row Motorsports
- #5 Kyle Larson – Hendrick Motorsports
- #48 Alex Bowman – Hendrick Motorsports
Feature Image by Justin Melillo / The Racing Experts LLC.
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