Memorial Day Sunday is often considered the greatest day in motorsports, one that begins with Formula One at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, followed by the Verizon IndyCar Series‘ legendary Indianapolis 500, and ending with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series‘ longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After 600 miles, Kyle Busch was in Victory Lane after one of the most dominant performances in his Cup career, leading 377 of 400 laps.
In the spirit of Memorial Day, many festivities surrounding the military were held throughout the week, while many drivers fielded patriotic schemes. For pre-race ceremonies, a 21-gun salute, a performance of “Taps”, a bagpipe rendition of “Danny Boy”, military recitals of the invocation and national anthem, and an F-15 flyover were held.
Busch started on the front row alongside Joey Logano, Busch’s second pole of the season. At the rear of the field was Kevin Harvick, who was seeking to score his second three-race winning streak of 2018 and coming off a Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race victory. However, Harvick failed inspection three times and could not set a qualifying time, resulting in car chief Robert Smith’s suspension.
Busch began the race on the outside line, while Logano’s inside line pushed ahead to take the lead on the opening lap. Logano led the first five laps before Busch reclaimed it; the former eventually fought with Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Erik Jones for second before relinquishing the spot to Jones and another JGR driver in Denny Hamlin. At the back, Harvick moved up to twenty-second after just ten laps, eventually cracking the top twenty on lap 12.
Parker Kligerman, running his first Cup race since 2014, hit the wall on lap 26, though no caution was waved. Eleven laps later, defending 600 winner Austin Dillon cut a right-rear tire; although he escaped hitting the wall, the damage still resulted in a yellow flag. Busch won the race off pit road, while Jones fell to seventeenth after he was forced to back up to exit his pit stall to avoid hitting Kasey Kahne in front. Ryan Newman, who was running in the top ten, was penalized for a crewman going over the wall too soon.
The restart took place on lap 42 as Busch continued to lead, while Harvick restarted sixth. Shortly after the restart, Dillon returned to pit road as his car went up in smoke. After being penalized for speeding, he went to the garage for further repair.
Harvick moved up to fifth by lap 67, but his day quickly fell apart sixteen laps later when he cut a left-front tire and hit the wall. He was ultimately classified in fortieth, his first last-place finish in 1,089 combined NASCAR national series starts. On the ensuing caution, Brad Keselowski elected to not change tires and rocketed up twelve spots to the lead ahead of Busch. However, this strategy proved to be a poor decision for Keselowski as he quickly dropped on the restart, falling out of the top twenty entirely. Busch went on to win the stage ahead of Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Jones.
Stage #2 began on lap 108 as Busch led Blaney. Seven laps later, William Byron got loose and hit the turn one wall to bring out the yellow flag. The top eight decided to stay out as Jones was the highest-placed pitter. Another restart took place on lap 120, though green flag racing did not last long as Johnson and Logano spun in turn four during the lap to produce another caution. Yet another green flag waved on lap 124 with an all-Kyle front row of Busch and Larson, with the former maintaining the lead. Truex passed Larson for second on lap 133.
Byron reported to pit road as damage from hitting the wall persisted, subsequently forcing him to go to the garage. He eventually retired from the race. By lap 154, Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Johnson had rebounded from his prior spin to enter the top ten.
Green flag stops began on lap 156 with Larson, Truex, and others pitting. Busch followed two laps later, which shuffled Hamlin to the lead ahead of Johnson and Jones. Jones and Johnson pitted on lap 163 and 164, respectively, while Hamlin stayed out as he continued to lap cars for an additional lap before peeling onto pit road on lap 165. This cycled Logano into first ahead of Kahne Busch reclaimed the top spot on lap 176. Logano would not pit until lap 187.
As the second stage came to a close, Blaney began reporting signs of engine problems, but continued on. At the front of the field, Busch led Truex by over 2.5 seconds as he won his second stage. Behind the Toyota duo were Larson, Hamlin, Bowyer, Almirola, Chase Elliott, Johnson, Newman, and Jones.
Busch remained the leader after leading the grid off pit road, while Truex was hit with a speeding penalty. Between stages, J.J. Yeley, driving for the newly-formed NY Racing Team, retired from the event.
The third stage began on lap 208 with Busch and Hamlin occupying the front row. Busch continued to lead until the next caution occurred on lap 227 for Gray Gaulding‘s spin in turn four. During stops, Truex was once again penalized, this time for an uncontrolled tire, while Johnson lost nine spots after having jack problems.
The green flag waved on lap 231. Behind Busch, Larson passed Hamlin for second on lap 232, while Johnson re-entered the top ten three laps later. Ragan brushed the wall on lap 255, but the race remained green; in contrast, four laps later, Chris Buescher hit the turn four wall and spun to bring out the yellow flag. Busch and Hamlin remained the front row for the lap 265 restart, but Jamie McMurray quickly entered the picture as he overtook Hamlin for second.
On lap 272, McMurray’s Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate Larson, who was running fourth, clipped the turn one wall, causing him to spin down and into the grass. Larson was able to keep the car from hitting the inside wall to save it from further harm. The next restart commenced on lap 277, but it was short-lived when Blaney’s car burst into flames, forcing another yellow.
The final restart of the stage took place with fifteen laps to go as the Busch brothers comprised the front row. Jones quickly grabbed second from Kurt as Kyle pulled ahead and scored yet another stage win. Behind him and Jones were Keselowski, Kurt Busch, McMurray, Hamlin, Kahne, Truex, Stenhouse, and Newman.
Unlike other races on the Cup schedule, the Coca-Cola 600 has four stages of 100 laps apiece. Busch and Keselowski led the race out of the pits as Stenhouse suffered an uncontrolled tire penalty. Stage #4 began on lap 308 as Busch continued to lead, quickly building a strong advantage over Keselowski. Newman retired on lap 313.
Truex began moving through the top five, eventually passing Keselowski for second on lap 331. In front of them, Busch continued to increase his margin, reaching as high as seven seconds between him and Truex.
Logano and Kahne pitted on lap 342 to receive fresher tires before the rest of the field. Others followed as Busch, Truex, Hamlin, Jones, and Michael McDowell stayed out. Busch, Truex, Jones, and McDowell pitted on lap 352, which allowed Hamlin to inherit the lead for a lap before also pitting. After his stop, Jones was penalized for an uncontrolled tire.
Keselowski eventually moved up to second, but Busch proved to be far too powerful as he pulled away to win his first Coca-Cola 600 in his fifteenth try. Truex finished second, followed by Hamlin, Keselowski, Johnson, McMurray, Larson, Kurt Busch, Bowman, and Stenhouse.
It is Busch’s first Cup points win at Charlotte as he becomes the first driver in NASCAR history to win a Cup points race at every track. The 377 laps led are the second-most in race history behind Truex’s 392 in 2016.
“This one’s very special,” Busch stated in Victory Lane. “I don’t think there’s anything that can top Homestead[-Miami Speedway], just with the meaning of what the championship is, but the Coke 600, I’ve dreamt of this race since I was a kid and being able to win this race. Always watching the All-Star Race and then the 600 the following weekend, and being able to come out here and now win the Coca-Cola 600 is just phenomenal.”
“It’s a little boy’s dream’s come true, and I just want to say that I thank NASCAR for, one, for giving me a chance to come out here and have this opportunity to race for my dreams and to accomplish those things. I don’t know if it’s ever been done before, but the first one to check off all the tracks and get it all done; I don’t want to go to any new ones, that would just start the whole process over!”
Next week, the Cup Series travels to Pocono Raceway for the Pocono 400. Blaney is the defending winner.
2018 Coca-Cola 600 results
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