How Charlotte’s 600 escalated into Talladega chaos

From Ryan Blaney causing The Big One, to Chris Buescher barrel-rolling down the infield grass, NASACR’s Coca-Cola 600 last weekend was far from the usually more tame and methodical 600 mile race and instead was one of the most dramatic and longest stock car races in recent history. 

This year’s “longest night in stock car racing” didn’t even start off like a typical Coca-Cola 600 as by the end of stage one there had been four cautions not including the stage ending caution for Chase Elliott’s stage one win.

Austin Cindric, driver of the No. 2 Menards/Cardell Cabinetry Ford, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022 (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

In recent editions of the race, the first half or more has been comprised of long green flag runs and a strung out field but this race was not like the others. One large contributor to more spins in the race such as Kyle Busch spinning out as Daniel Suárez ran him tight in turns one and two in stage one, is that the new NASCAR Cup cars are much harder to save once the car steps out and begins spinning compared to the old 6th gen NASCAR. With little practice time before the races and spec parts that teams are not allowed to modify, not to mention the absence of in-car adjustments for drivers during the race, the challenge is only heightened.

Late on in stage two, Ryan Blaney spun out in front of the pack in turns one and two causing The Big One that is usually only seen at Daytona and Talladega. Over ten cars were caught up in the pile up.

Aside from the several spin-outs by drivers in the first two stages, there had been thrilling side by side action with many drivers fighting over positions throughout the field including for the lead with Suárez who would go on to take the stage two win after fending off Trackhouse Racing teammate Ross Chastain and Erik Jones.

Daniel Suarez, driver of the No. 99 CommScope Chevrolet, and Ross Chastain, driver of the No. 1 Advent Health Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022 (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The NASCAR drivers were racing in honour of fallen veterans as the Coca-Cola 600 runs on Memorial Day Weekend. During the stage two break, for the second year running, NASCAR brought the cars down pit road and parked them and paused the race to take a moment to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Drivers and  pit crews pause for a moment of remembrance in the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022 (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The second half of the race proved only to be more wild as the 16th caution of the night came out halfway in stage four when Chris Buescher, after piling into a spinning Daniel Suárez , was sent skidding across the infield grass before the car got hooked causing it to flip over wildly several times before coming to a stop upside down . Buescher’s car was righted by the AMR safety team. He was ok.

With two laps to go in the race Kyle Larson was holding off Chase Briscoe for the lead. Larson’s night had been a rollercoaster ride in itself. After qualifying 36th and making his way through to the top half of the field, Larson would get two pit equipment interference penalties in quick succession that sent him to the rear each time. His car also caught fire forcing him to take two emergency trips down pit road. He then spun out on old tyres in turn four in stage two after having led the race on the previous restart. With plenty of laps left and plenty of cautions to bunch up the field, Larson was able to finish third in stage three and get by Chastain, the stage three winner, in turn three to take the lead with 46 laps to go.

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Larson’s amazing comeback would be halted when Briscoe spun out on his own in turns one and two with two laps to go as he sent it into turn one in an attempt to pass Larson.

Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The first overtime restart saw Laron’s chance of another Coca-Cola 600 win come to an end as Austin Dillon had got alongside him in turns three and four before washing up and slowing them down before Hamlin and Chastain joined them to make it four wide coming off turn four heading to get the white flag. They would only see yellow as Dillon drifted up slightly and would get turned around off of Larson’s front bumper causing another multi-car crash down the front straightaway with Larson caught in it.

Instead it would come down to Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch for the 600 win on the next overtime restart. Polesitter Hamlin would race side by side with Busch for the first lap but would clear Busch in turns one and two on the final lap to finally win his first Coca-Cola 600.

Hamlin said: It’s so special. It’s the last big one that’s not on my resume. It meant so much.”

Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota, crosses the finish line ahead of Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Red White and Blue Toyota, to win the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

It was NASCAR’s longest Cup race in history in terms of distance with the drivers having raced for 619.5 miles (413 laps) before taking the checkered flag and was the third longest Coca-Cola 600 ever after having raced for five hoursthirteen minutes, and eight seconds. It was only 34 seconds shy of being longer than the second longest Coca-Cola 600 race in 2005. The first Coca-Cola 600 in 1960 had been the longest being five hours and thirty four minutes long.

The 2022 edition of the Coca-Cola 600 had been one of the most competitive and action packed thrillers in years and delivered a race on a weekend where the world was watching after the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500 earlier that day, making it an unforgettable day in racing.

Full race results: 1st Denny Hamlin, 2nd Kyle Busch, 3rd Kevin Harvick, 4th Chase Briscoe, 5th Christopher Bell, 6th Tyler Reddick, 7th Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 8th Michael McDowell, 9th Kyle Larson, 10th Alex Bowman, 11th Harrison Burton, 12th Martin Truex Jr., 13th Ty Dillon, 14th Erik Jones, 15th Ross Chastain, 16th Todd Gilliland, 17th Aric Almirola, 18th Cody Ware, 19th BJ McLeod, 20th Joey Logano, 21st Cole Custer, 22nd Austin Dillon, 23rd Kaz Grala, 24th Noah Gragson, 25th Daniel Suárez, 26th Chris Buescher, 27th Justin Haley, 28th Bubba Wallace, 29th Ryan Blaney, 30th Brad Keselowski, 31st Kurt Busch, 32nd William Byron, 33rd Chase Elliott, 34th Austin Cindric, 35th Corey Lajoie, 36th Josh Bilicki, 37th Ryan Preece.

Featured Image: Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, flips into the infield grass after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2022. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

 

NASCAR: Controversial Victory for the #3 at the Daytona 500

Despite the absence of long-time Most Popular Driver, the recently retired Dale Earnhardt Jr, the stands appeared densely packed for the 2018 Daytona 500. There was, of course, still an Earnhardt in the field, with Jeffrey Earnhardt ensuring the family name was represented for the 40th consecutive time in the Great American race. Dale Jr himself was the one to get the race started with the infamous words “drivers, start your engines.” But little did we know then that the eventual race winner would be none other than the car sporting Earnhardt Sr’s legendary no. 3.

Perhaps befitting the Earnhardt legacy, Austin Dillon’s win was nothing short of controversial, securing the win on the last lap by appearing to wreck the no. 10 car of Aric Almirola in front. Dillon’s wasn’t the only questionable move of the race, however, with a host of at-best opportunistic and at-worst dirty manoeuvres leading to big wrecks in the first two stages. As a catch-up for anyone who’s not watched NASCAR in a while, a reminder that since 2017, races have been split into three stages, with drivers able to collect points for each stage as well as for the overall result.

Stage One

Cars were running three and even four-wide at the outset, with Denny Hamlin’s no. 11 car looking comfortable in the lead. However, that all changed during the first caution, as Hamlin overshot his pit box, backing the car up, but not far enough, earning himself a 1 lap penalty. Meanwhile, the other big names were on the move, with Jimmie Johnson working his way quietly through the field in the no. 48 and Kyle Bush showing promise until he suffered a puncture in the no. 18. The young guns were well-represented early on, with Alex Bowman (no. 88), “Bubba” Wallace (no. 43) and Erik Jones (no. 20) running towards the front of the pack for much of the first stage. Stenhouse (no. 17) and Logano (no. 22) ran confidently up front as the stage progressed, with Chase Elliott on the charge in the no. 9 Chevrolet.

On the final lap of the stage, Ryan Blaney (no. 12) was blocked (by all accounts, pretty aggressively) by Stenhouse who then drifted up the track, causing Jones to get loose, and ultimately setting off a domino effect which eventually collected Suarez, Johnson, Larson and others, with Chase Elliott doing an impressive job to avoid it. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch (no. 41) remained out front as the drama unfolded behind him, earning him the first stage win of the season.

Stage Two

Kurt Busch started the second stage off with the same 1 lap penalty for a pit box violation that scuppered Hamlin’s hopes early on, while Hamlin himself was now back on the lead lap. Blaney and Bowman, both lucky to have avoided the wreck at the end of the first stage, led the field. The no. 24 car of William Byron brought out the caution with a puncture on lap 93, with reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr now leading the field after electing not to pit. Blaney (apparently feeling the force as a huge Star Wars fan) promptly took the lead back as the race returned to green.

With 18 to go in the stage, another big wreck unfolded, as Chase Elliott moved down the track to block Brad Keselowski in the no. 2, in a move which did neither of them any favours. Elliott’s no. 9 was sent spinning by the contact, eventually coming to a stop after collecting Kasey Kahne in the no. 9, and Danica Patrick in the no. 7, prematurely ending Patrick’s final Daytona 500.

With that wreck having depleted the field once again, the aggression died down a little, as Aric Almirola in the no. 10 and Wallace cleanly worked their way up in to the top 5, with Ryan Blaney eventually taking the second stage win in the no. 12 Penske.

Stage Three

Entering the final stage of the race, Blaney, Logano and Hamlin made up the top 3, and, with much of the field running single-file, things seemed to settle down somewhat, with cars pitting under the green flag with 43 laps remaining, and little drama of note, besides Kyle Busch adding to his difficult day with a penalty for speeding.

With 32 laps to go, the leaders hit traffic, but made it through cleanly, despite some wobbling from the lapped no. 1 car of Jamie McMurray. More pit stops under green followed, with Hamlin making a strategic error, pitting a lap later than the rest of the field, and Logano dropping a lap down after getting loose and speeding on pit road, earning himself a penalty. Following Hamlin’s stop, Blaney was now back in the lead, followed by Truex Jr and Kurt Busch.

After a surprisingly long green-flag period, Byron brought out the caution with 11 laps to go with a dramatic right-front tyre failure. Blaney, who by this point had led 118 laps, found himself crowded out and it looked as though he might drop way back in the pack, but he fought back up towards the front despite little help from those around him. The fight at the front was now heating up, with Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney all jostling for the lead.

Hamlin, now leading, blocked Kurt Busch, pushing him back towards Blaney. While it looked like the pair didn’t make contact, Kurt Busch spun, causing another big wreck, collecting Stenhouse, Truex and others. When the green flag waved once more, Almirola looked confident at the head of the field, clear of Hamlin and Dillon behind him. On the final lap, Dillon made what was to be the deciding move of the race, sending Almirola ungracefully into the wall and taking the win for himself. Meanwhile, Wallace and Hamlin fought tooth-and-nail for P2, with Bubba coming out on top in an incredibly close finish.

On his win, Dillon said that he had done what he had to do, while a devastated Almirola gave his opponent more credit than he perhaps deserved in his dignified post-race interview. While it might not have been the way it should have ended, there’s no denying that for many fans, there was a special kind of symmetry to seeing the no. 3 return to Victory Lane on the 20th anniversary of the late Dale Earnhardt’s win.

What did you think of Dillon’s move? Was it a step too far, or would any other driver have done the same?

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