The only endurance race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is the Coca-Cola 600, consisting of 400 laps and 600 miles of full-tilt racing. This year, 4 Stages were added, each of 100 laps – a feature that forces teams to give it their ALL from beginning to end. The Coca-Cola 600 tests everyone involved – drivers, crew chiefs, pit crews, even TV announcers and pit reporters. Their endurance is tested further with a rain delay into the mix, as we saw Sunday evening.
The race got off to a disappointing start for Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott fans. Only 20 laps into Stage 1, a part broke in Jeffery Earnhardt‘s Chevrolet which caused him to drop oil as well as large pieces of debris onto the track. Heading into the sun, Chase Elliott collected a large chunk of it as it bounced across the track and sucked into his engine, causing his #24 Napa Chevrolet to lay down oil, catch fire, and come to a grinding halt. Brad Keselowski, driving the Penske #2 Ford, got into the oil and was unable to steer clear of Elliott, causing him to plough into the back of the #24 at great speed. This crushed both vehicles and rendered the night over for both drivers. Kyle Busch went on to win the first stage.
The start of Stage 2 looked like last year’s 600 with Martin Truex Jr leading and dominating. However, the action came to an end when a heavy storm moved into the area. The race was red flagged for an hour and 40 minutes while waiting out the rain and the track-drying process. With 252 laps to go and clear skies on the horizon, the race resumed.
The remainder of Stage 2 played out rather smoothly with only 1 caution for Danica Patrick who scraped the wall. Martin Truex Jr won Stage 2.
Late in Stage 3, the caution flag flew, ironically for 4 different drivers experiencing four different issues. Kasey Kahne spun into the wall on Turn 2/back straightaway, causing Trevor Bayne to clip the rear end of the car though trying to avoid him. Kevin Harvick had been trying to ride out a loose wheel, but eventually lost it in Turn 3. Kyle Larson got sucked into the wall on Turn 4, and Ty Dillon experienced a tire rub. Denny Hamlin restarted first and held onto the lead for the remaining 3 laps, thus earning the stage win.
Despite leading 233 laps, Martin Truex Jr was unable to secure the win after the No. 3 team of Austin Dillon pulled a fuel mileage strategy at the last minute. Dillon only led 2 laps and ran out of fuel as he crossed the finish line. As a result, he was unable to perform the expected celebratory burnout. It wasn’t necessary, however, because the celebration in Victory Lane was impressive enough given the No. 3 car (originally made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt) was finally back in winner’s circle. Not to mention that this was Dillon’s first ever Cup series win and the No. 3’s first win in 17 years.
Catch the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Dover International Speedway next week for the AAA 400 Drive for Autism. Buy your tickets HERE