After last week’s abomination of an All Star Race, the bar had been lowered for 1.5 mile tracks and the Gen 7.
But you didn’t have to do them like that Charlotte.
After 600 miles of Remembrance, heartbreak, confusion, insane crashes and contenders wiping each other out, Denny Hamlin was the last man standing, edging out teammate Kyle Busch. It’s Hamlin’s first 600 victory. The race ended up being the longest in the history of the sport at 619 miles after two overtime restarts.
Everything started out fairly normal for a 600, Kyle Busch surged to the lead early, leading 46 laps before he spun. Busch wasn’t the first and he definitely wouldn’t be the last. The leader after that incident was sentimental favorite Daniel Suarez, who watched fellow countryman Sergio Perez pick up a huge win at Monaco earlier in the day. Suarez led until another caution came out for an incident involving Ryan Preece, Noah Gragson and Chris Buescher. In case you’re paying attention at home, that’s cars 15, 16, 17.
After the break, Chase Elliott assumed the lead, and the NAPA Chevrolet dominated on its way to the stage one win.
Then… well, stage 2 happened. It really all started with Elliott experiencing a problem and tapping the fence with the right rear. He then spun and that brought out the caution. When the race restarted, Ryan Blaney caught a little bit of the apron and launched his #12 Ford into the field causing a massive pileup. Blaney, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, William Byron and many others were collected. Coincidentally, Bubba Wallace and Chase Elliott were both DNF’ed due to this incident despite minimal damage to either car. Bubba in particular was having a good run and barely picked up any damage in the wreck. Unfortunately his team told him to pedal it towards the end of the stage to save tires and he didn’t meet minimum speed and thus the damage clock expired, despite being plenty capable of doing so.
Elliott on the other hand was trying have his right rear toe link repaired when he went on the clock, and just as he was leaving pit road, the caution came out and unable to get up to speed before the clock ran out, the best car in the field was in the garage area, also without much damage.
I’ll get to how ridiculous both of those incidents are later in the week.
Moving on, Stage Two was captured by Daniel Suarez and that kicked off the trend of Trackhouse dominance all the way up through stage three, as teammate Ross Chastain stepped into the role of dominant car, leading the most laps and winning stage three.
The insanity resumed in stage four. Suarez’s amazing run was cut short after making contact with Chase Briscoe, which turned the 99 into oncoming traffic, especially Chris Buescher. Beuscher made contact with Suarez and went spinning himself into the infield turf, but it wasn’t over there.
The 17’s left front suspension basically imploded, and shoved the tire underneath the car and sent him tumbling down the front stretch end over end. Buescher appeared to be shaken but not seriously injured. Beuscher’s crash raises some questions about the safety of the Gen 7, but that’s again another article for another day.
Following the pit stops from that incident, Kyle Larson finally came to play, after struggling all night. The 5 at one time was literally on fire. Yep, it was that kind of night. Larson assumed the lead and led all the way to two to go, when a charging Chase Briscoe went full Bristol Dirt and spun himself into the wall bringing out the caution and sending the sport’s longest night into overtime.
The first overtime restart ended when Austin Dillon, on fresh tires rocketed to the front but was done in when Chastain, Larson, Denny Hamlin and himself exited turn 4 four wide for the win. Hamlin escaped. The other three didn’t as heavy damage basically ended Chastain’s evening.
The second overtime restart became a battle of the sport’s elder statesmen, as Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and “The Closer” Kevin Harvick. In the end Hamlin drove away from Busch on the final lap and captured the win. It’s Hamlin’s 48th win, his first 600 win. The race was the longest in NASCAR history, at 619.5 miles.
“It’s so special,” Hamlin said. “It’s the last big one that’s not on my résumé. It meant so much.” Hamlin has been part of the Coca Cola racing family since his rookie year in 2006, and is the longest tenured current member. Seems fitting that Denny would have at least one 600.
Next week, the Cup Series debuts at the WWT Raceway in St. Louis, formerly known as Gateway.
Now about that damaged vehicle clock…
Photo Credit to Pat @Puffadda on Twitter