Coca-Cola 600 long, unpredictable and immensely entertaining | Sports News
By STEVE REED, AP Sports Reporter
CONCORD, NC (AP) — The Coca-Cola 600 was many things — excruciatingly long, wildly unpredictable, and perhaps above all, immensely entertaining.
It was, as William Byron described it after being caught up in a 12-car crash, “chaos out there”.
In a race that lasted five hours and 13 minutes and included 18 cautions and 17 cars ending up in the garage in various states of disrepair, the first Next Gen race at Charlotte Motor Speedway left many shaking their heads about the night’s events. Denny Hamlin finally won the longest race in NASCAR history (619.5 miles) by beating Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to the finish line by 0.014 seconds in double overtime.
Things were so crazy at one point that Clint Bowyer, Fox Sports racing analyst and longtime Cup Series rider, exclaimed, “This is the craziest, craziest 600 ever. come!”
Few cars escaped the race unscathed, with Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Bubba Wallace among the many who simply pulled aside while racing alone and spun, often finding themselves harmless on the indoor turf and drawing a yellow flag .
Others weren’t so lucky.
Chris Buescher was involved in a chilling wreck that saw his No. 17 Ford flip five times before landing on its bonnet. Security teams had to carefully turn his car around before Buescher could get out of the vehicle. He came out sore but relatively unscathed.
“Thank you to everyone working for not slamming it,” Buescher said. “It was nice to be able to go out. The blood goes to your head a little.
And it wasn’t even the craziest wreck of the night.
Last weekend’s All-Star Race winner Ryan Blaney fell too low on the apron at the bottom of the track on lap 192 and spun to the right, heading for the track where he picked up another 11 cars in the fray and ended the night for Brad Keselowski, Wallace, Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott, whose mangled cars were taken behind the pit wall.
The costliest wreck, at least for defending champion Kyle Larson, came when Chase Briscoe crashed two laps from the finish as he tried to take the lead, setting up overtime and adding to insanity.
Larson, who looked set to become the first rider to repeat as the Coca-Cola 600 champion since Jimmie Johnson in 2005, then got caught in wreckage minutes later when Austin Dillon raced from behind and went four wide for the lead. Larson choked out Dillon, causing another multiple-car collision and extending the race even further.
Hamlin somehow sailed through the carnage without a gash and held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch on the second restart for the win.
“The (Next Gen) car has less lateral downforce and less overall downforce,” Hamlin said of all the wreckage. “In our old car, you could sort of hang out. The right side was a billboard, it was flat so it caught the air. Every time you stick your hand out the window, you can feel it. This one is all rounded. The moment he rolls to the side, he simply spins. You don’t have as much aero that keeps the car planted on the track.
It was a point of frustration for Byron, a Charlotte native.
“It’s chaos out there,” Byron said. “You can’t drive the car the least bit sideways or you’re destroyed. So if someone gets a little awry, then we all fall apart. Either that eliminates other people or they turn to the infield. Just chaos.
Cup veteran Kevin Harvick expected it after seeing the uncertainty the Next Gen car has brought this season.
“I was in that race a lot and I knew the way the mile-and-a-half races had gone that year, it was going to be a war,” Harvick said. “There weren’t as many tires as I thought there would be problems, but it turned out to be failures because the cars would get an incredibly large handful as you got closer to the end of the race.
Harvick shook his head, adding “that was really interesting, to say the least.”
More interesting than the often mundane 600 mile races here at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the past. In 2016, for example, Martin Truex Jr. led 392 of the 400 laps, repeatedly pulling away from the pack in clean air. It was an impressive feat but didn’t push the entertainment meter.
Sunday’s race, meanwhile, featured 31 lead changes involving 13 different drivers.
“For me, it was the most fun Charlotte race I’ve ever run,” Briscoe said. “The circuit was awesome. You could run the fence. You could run in the middle. You can run the bottom. You could throw cursors.
He also praised the Next Gen car.
“In the past, it seemed like we kind of got eliminated in single file,” Briscoe said. “It was great fun. I would definitely do another 600 miles.”
Hamlin acknowledged that teams still have a lot to learn about the Next Gen car, but said that will come over time.
“Every time we change cars, it takes a long time to get it right,” Hamlin said. “It was a major overhaul of a car. Other than it having a steering wheel and four tires, there wasn’t much similar to the previous generation car. This car was broken in for a long time. This one still has work to do. We need to do some tests to try to fix it in some areas. But in the meantime, we still have very good races.
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