Coke 600 Was Not Light on ‘Action’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2022

At the end it was Denny Hamlin holding off teammate Kyle Busch in Concord. Before that it was chaos. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

CONCORD, N.C. – Frustration plagued Kyle Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports team in the first half of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, while Ross Chastain enjoyed success, but the tale of two drivers became one with both vying for the victory in one of the most competitive and challenging races ever at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The longest race in NASCAR history – 619.5 miles – had an 11-minute red flag, 18 caution flags, a car barrel roll at least six times on the frontstretch and two multi-car accidents involving at least seven vehicles. It was a race that tested the toughness of drivers and their cars.

Chastain and teammate Daniel Suarez showcased Trackhouse Racing’s strength in the first 500 miles. Suarez led four times for 36 laps and won Stage Two. Chastain, who finished second in Stage Two and won Stage Three, emerged as the race’s top lap leader, setting the pace on six occasions for 153 laps.  

However, for Larson the race’s first half was the exact opposite as the California native attempted to overcome pit road and on-track problems. After starting from the rear in a repaired car damaged during Saturday’s practice, he suffered three pit-road penalties, a spin off turn four and a fire in his pit stall that resulted in him leaving pit road with the refueling area on his car ablaze. 

The first half was not good on many levels, but then Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) gave a great speech, and we were much better in the second half of the race,” Larson said after finishing ninth. “Didn’t really think I was going to have a shot to battle for the win there and really had a shot the last 100 laps or so.”

Larson ended Stage three in third place behind Chastain and Chase Briscoe, respectively. After pit stops, Tyler Reddick led at the start of he final 100 laps with Chastain second, Larson third and Briscoe fourth. Chastain quickly passed Reddick on the restart and with 65 laps remaining possessed a 1.370-second lead over Reddick. On lap 340, Reddick’s Chevrolet suffered a flat tire and debris from it caused the 15th-caution period. When the race restarted on lap 346 Chastain and Larson were running 1-2, but then the worst crash of the night occurred.

Briscoe tagged Suarez and sent him sideways, then Todd Gilliland hit Suarez and sent him spinning. Chris Buescher slammed into Suarez, slid briefly before flipping and then barrel rolling at least six times on the frontstretch. The race was stopped for 11 minutes while rescuers worked to free Buescher from the wreckage. Once Buescher’s car was righted, he emerged from his mangled car and was taken to the infield care center where he was evaluated and released. 

When the race returned to green flag conditions Chastain’s Chevrolet became ill handling and Larson assumed the lead with Briscoe in tow. 

“After that red flag we were tight, and they kinda just drove away from me,” Chastain said. “That was by far the tightest we had been all day. I don’t know if we just cycled tighter with that set of tires or what, but it was definitely tighter.”

 With 30 laps remaining, Larson led Briscoe by 1.267 seconds, but then the Stewart Haas Racing driver began chopping away at Larson’s lead. By the time only five laps remained, Briscoe had but the deficit to 0.199 second. On the final lap, Briscoe charged under Larson in an attempt to grab the lead, but lost control of his Ford and spun in turn one. That sent stock car racing’s longest race into overtime. 

During the caution period the lead-lap cars pitted. Chastain and Larson received two fresh tires, while Austin Dillon was one of those who elected to take four. When the race restarted on lap 405, Larson was first, and Chastain was second. When the tightly packed field charged off turn four for the white flag, Dillon shot to the inside of Larson, Chastain was high, and Joey Logano made it four wide. Dillon clipped Larson and turned sideways in front of the field, triggering a seven-car crash.

“The 3 (Dillon) was definitely way alongside me,” Larson said. “I kind of under drove the corner. I just didn’t know what to expect getting into (turn) three and I was the leader. You don’t have anybody to judge off of. So, I kind of under drove it and then the 3 drove in really deep and got almost clear of me and barely caught the front end and it got us all spinning out.”

 This time when the field lined up for the second overtime restart, the top three were Denny Hamlin, Chastain and Kyle Busch, respectively. Busch challenged his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate for the victory but had to settle for second. Chastain fell to 15th

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 30 2022
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