It was a weekend of racing, remembering, reunions, and reverence.
Memorial Day weekend is a holiday to honor the lives of fallen U.S. military personnel and show appreciation for their ultimate sacrifice. But no sport commemorates the special holiday quite like NASCAR, with a huge tribute during pre-race ceremonies and each driver carrying the name of a service member who died in the line of duty. The families of each of these servicemen were in attendance as guests of the drivers. As such, the Coca-Cola 600, a crown-jewel of the sport, kicked off with heavy hearts as bagpipes and a solemn lone trumpeter played to honor of the lives of so many brave men and women.
Despite all regular series races containing 3-stages, the 600 was run with 4 stages of 100 laps each to assist the most gruelling race of the year by breaking it down into more manageable segments. Those stages played out like this:
Pole-sitter Kyle Busch led the field to green and was instantly contested by Joey Logano who started 2nd. Logano in the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford took off like a shot for the first 4 laps, but very soon afterward he experienced handling issues and began to fall back.
On Lap 36, Austin Dillon, who had won the 600 last year, blew a right-rear tire after making contact with the wall a lap earlier. Dillon made multiple stops to tend to the damage and returned to the track 52 laps down. Later, on Lap 83, Kevin Harvick – the driver that has been dominating the season so far – blew a left-front tire and scraped the wall hard in Turn 4. The damage to the vehicle was extensive and rendered Harvick out of the race, causing him to finish in last place. Kyle Busch took the first stage victory.
Fourteen laps into Stage 2, rookie William Byron hit the wall in Turn 1 and brought out the fourth caution flag of the night. On the restart, Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Loew’s Chevrolet turned toward the bottom of the track in Turn 4, seemingly unaware that Denny Hamlin was under him. Johnson cut across Hamlin’s front-end and spun down the front-stretch. Joey Logano who had a big run coming off the corner, could not get slowed down in time to miss Johnson and swerved to avoid the #48. Logano spun in the process. None of the drivers involved in the incident sustained much damage and were able to return to positions in the Top 10. Kyle Busch continued his dominance and took the second stage win.
As the night wore on and the track cooled and provided more grip, the third stage of the race saw more aggression as drivers took serious chances. On Lap 225, the #23 of Grey Gaulding spun. On Lap 258, the #37 car of Chris Buescher spun.
On Lap 272, Kyle Larson – who appeared to be the only serious competition for Kyle Busch – spun in Turn 1 as he tried to straddle the highest groove and the line right beside the wall. The #42 of Larson was too loose to make the line work and spun. Amazingly, though the interior of the car instantly filled with smoke, he managed to keep the car out of the wall and off the grass. Larson pitted and returned to the track without losing a lap, then raced his way back into the Top 10 where he would finish 7th.
Just 22 laps before the stage came to a close, Ryan Blaney‘s #12 Ford quite literally erupted in a fireball. Blaney had lost a cylinder earlier in the race and his team told him to “run it ’til it blows up“… so he did exactly that. Despite that flames engulfed the car from front to back, Blaney exited on his own and was unharmed in the incident Once again, Kyle Busch picked up the stage points.
The final segment surprisingly ran caution free and allowed for Kyle Busch to set sail for a truly historic win. Busch has now won on every active racetrack in the NASCAR schedule, something no other driver has done before. It was his 4th win of the season.
Although Busch’s dominance was indeed impressive, his outrageous lead and sweep of every stage resulted in a rather uninteresting and somewhat predictable race. And the fact that it was 600 miles made it not only gruelling for the drivers but for the spectators as well. The few single-car spins that took place didn’t nearly make up for the lackluster single file racing on the track. Charlotte’s All-Star race last weekend was far more exciting given the format and new rules package. It kept viewers on the edge of their seat and reaffirmed the exhilaration of watching a Cup Series race. Given that Martin Truex Jr. dominated in the same fashion 2 years ago, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway might want to consider some changes to next year’s 600 before fans grow tired of watching the same uninspired race.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be at Pocono Raceway next weekend for the Pocono 400. Get your tickets HERE or stay tuned for our live coverage from the event!