CONCORD, N.C. – On a night filled with attrition, Denny Hamlin emerged from the fray to win his first Coca-Cola 600. The win is the 48th of his career and his first points-paying win at the 1.5 half mile (2015 All-Star Race winner).
Despite crew chief Chris Gabehart’s four-race suspension for an unsecured wheel being confirmed earlier in the week, interim crew-chief Sam McAulay’s No. 11 team qualified on the pole to headline a 1-2-3-4 qualifying effort for Toyota.
Trackhouse Racing dominated the majority of the race. Ross Chastain led a race-high 153 laps and Daniel Suarez showed tremendous speed until a massive crash that caused Chris Buescher to flip through the infield grass. Buescher was checked and released from the infield care center.
Following the restart, Kyle Larson took the lead from Chastain and had the race all but sewn up. Chase Briscoe eventually ran him down, but crashed trying to slide in front of the No. 5 Hendrick Cars Chevrolet. The subsequent caution flag took the race into its first overtime period.
On the restart, Austin Dillon took advantage of four tires and made a power move to challenge Larson for the lead, however Chastain got to Larson’s outside and the three collided in the tri-oval, which forced a second overtime.
Hamlin inherited the lead following the first overtime’s carnage. Teammate Kyle Busch restarted alongside Hamlin and the two battled throughout until the final lap when Hamlin seized the lead for good in turns one and two.
Hamlin told FOX Sports following the race, “It’s so special. It’s the last big one that’s not on my resume. It means so much. I’ve been a Coca-Cola family driver for 18 years and had never won the Coca-Cola 600 before. We weren’t very good all day, but just got in the right place at the right time. What a battle there.”
And he’s right. Hamlin’s No. 11 Camry, as well as the rest of the Toyota contingent, didn’t have flashy speed for the vast majority of the night. However, the capitalized on the attrition and earned Joe Gibbs Racing a 1-2 finish.
Tonight’s race also made history as the official race length was 619.5 miles: the longest ever in NASCAR Cup Series history.
NASCAR’s elite drivers will head to St. Louis and World Wide Technology Raceway (formerly known as Gateway) on June 5th.
Written by Greg Atkins