In what is NASCAR longest race of the season the Coca-Cola 600 is always special as NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway honor the military. The Sprint Cup series hit the track for one of the toughest races with the day time and then transitioning to the night time.
Pole sitter Ryan Newman led the first nine laps, but last week’s All-star winner Kurt Busch quickly made his way to the front.
The race started at a fast pace and saw Busch lapping the field quickly. So much so that the race went 61 laps and one green flag pit stop before the first caution of the day.
That caution was for Juan Pablo Montoya who got loose and spun suffering damage to the front of the car. That brought all but Denny Hamlin came to pit road for either tires or just fuel.
A few drivers needed that caution; one of them was Jeff Gordon. He was struggling early on in the race in fact he was a non factor early on. As they say this is a marathon not a sprint, so the goal is to be there when it counts.
Hamlin led them on the restart but Busch quickly made his way back to the front.
The second caution of the day was for Marcos Ambrose, he spun when he cut a tire.
That once again brought the field to pit road again where across the board drivers were saying track position was key.
The track was undergoing the transitions from daylight to twilight and Kyle Busch took the lead from Jimmie Johnson on lap 131.
Teams were going to be adjusting for the night time when it really counts.
Pit road took a wild turn when on the track Johnson got wicked loose and smacked the wall hard. Denny Hamlin tried to avoid Johnson but went through the grass, and suffered damage to the front of the car.
This brought all the teams to pit road which was more of a hazard than anything else. With teams taking mixed strategy, leader Busch was exiting pit road when he collided with Brad Keselowski. Both suffered damage to their cars and Busch got tagged for speeding exiting pit road.
This sequence of action on pit road and on track sent three of the best cars to the back of the pack with damage.
What was discussed throughout the week was track position. We are seeing tires not very important but running up front and clean air was king.
On lap 213, debris on the race track brought the field back down pit road for tires and more adjustments. This caution gave Hamlin his lap back but also allowed both Johnson and Ky. Busch to make repairs to their cars.
Following the restart the race went on a long green flag run that saw Hamlin get lapped again. There were a lot of drivers complaining of tight race cars as this run went on.
Just as the green flag pit stops cycled through, Johnson got loose and hit the inside wall hard bringing out the caution on lap 272.
Jamie McMurray had the fastest car on that run in fact he took the lead from Busch who was overheating.
On lap 301, Robby Gordon hit the wall hard bringing out the caution. Teams were debating two tires or four tires. Majority of the drivers up front took two tires, choosing track position over fresher rubber.
Busch would lead them to green with McMurray right next to him. Only a few laps later Greg Biffle went hard into the wall hard sending him to pit road and the field under caution.
Busch would lead the field to green but there would still be another pit stop with the possibility it being under green.
When McMurray took the lead on lap 339 from Busch it would set up the final pit stop under green.
After the pit stops cycled through McMurray was back in front with less than 40 laps to go.
Marcos Ambrose brought out the caution on lap 376 crashing hard into the wall. That brought all but Gordon, Mark Martin and Newman to pit road. Busch though was able to pass Gordon and take back the lead.
McMurray attempted to run down Busch but Busch was so good on the short run. McMurray would settle for second after a very impressive performance.
It was Ku. Busch who had the car to beat on Sunday night he downright dominated the race leading 252 laps.
Busch is the second driver in three years to win both the All-Star race and the Coke 600.
The rest of the top 10 were McMurray, Busch, Martin, David Reutimann, Gordon, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Newman, Kenseth.
The points shuffled a bit with Gordon and Ku. Busch both gained with two positions for Gordon and three for Busch. The biggest loser inside the top 12 was Johnson he lost three positions dropping to seventh.
Kevin Harvick is still the points leader.
Outside the top 12 gaining on the top 12 were Bowyer and McMurray each gaining two positions, 13th and 15th respectively. Tony Stewart and Martin Truex, Jr. lost two positions dropping to 14th and 16th respectively.
Next the series heads to Pocono Raceway next Sunday at 1 ET on TNT.