Denny Hamlin earns first career Coca-Cola 600 victory in Charlotte, winning in double overtime
CONCORD, NC — Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway started with Denny Hamlin up front and ended with Denny Hamlin up front.
What happened between the two defied belief. And a driver who claimed to thrive in chaos turned out to be a man of his word.
Hamlin won the longest race in NASCAR history – 619.5 miles – in two overtimes, beating Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to the finish line by 0.014 seconds.
With the victory – the second this season and the 48th of his career – Hamlin now holds trophies in all three of NASCAR’s flagship races: the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. Kevin Harvick is the only other active driver with the three titles.
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Hamlin’s win spoiled what could have been one of the most stunning comebacks in racing history. Kyle Larson started from the back in a repaired car, suffered three pit road penalties, a Turn 4 spin off and a fire in his pit but – miraculously – led the race on the penultimate lap of regulation when Chase Briscoe spun under him while battling for the lead and prompted the 17th caution of the night.
A wreck on the first overtime attempt picked up Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet and scrambled the running order, leaving Hamlin in the lead with four fresh tires.
“The first half (of the race) was a struggle for all of us,” said Larson, who finished ninth. “I was particularly frustrated with myself. To bounce back from that and have a chance to win there late was something to be proud of. Our team fought very hard. Happy with that.
“Briscoe was really good, that long term there. I wish we had been a little better so he never got to me, finally turned.
After the second overtime restart, Hamlin and Busch battled side-by-side until Hamlin took the lead on lap 412 of 413, 13 laps beyond the scheduled distance. Busch rallied but couldn’t get back to Hamlin’s bumper.
“It’s so special,” Hamlin said. “It’s the last great that is not on my CV. It meant so much.
“Man, we haven’t been very good all day. We just ended up in the right place at the right time. What a battle there!
Hamlin, however, was far from the likely winner as the race unfolded. Daniel Suárez had arguably the fastest car. His Trackhouse Racing teammate Ross Chastain led 153 laps – more than any other driver.
In the final stages of regulation, it seemed to everyone that Larson and Briscoe would decide the outcome between them, until Briscoe spun as he tried to pass the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion to the inside.
But on the first overtime attempt, Austin Dillon’s bold move on four fresh tires against Larson’s two went wrong at Turn 4, damaging seven cars and setting up Hamlin’s victory in the second overtime.
It was just the last chapter of a five-hour thriller.
On a night that had already seen a glut of jaw-dropping action, Suárez’ Chevrolet spun sideways on lap 346 after contact with Briscoe’s Ford and sparked a four-car wreck that swept ended with Chris Buescher’s Ford barrel rolling five times across the front field and landing on his roof.
Buescher got out of his car unscathed, but a solid run for driver Roush Fenway Keselowski ended abruptly. So did Suárez, who had led four times for 38 laps, only to lose places at each pit stop, with the cars of Hamlin and Joey Logano blocking his exit from pit road.
“I’m going to be in a bit of pain tomorrow,” Buescher said after an obligatory trip to the on-field care center. “I haven’t been upside down in a very long time. The team did a very good job. We had great speed and had a chance at this stuff, it just didn’t work.
The opening rounds of the event were a harbinger of things to come.
How intense was the race? Here’s a microcosm: The first lap ended in a tie, with Kurt Busch edging Hamlin by less than a thousandth of a second. Racing side-by-side with Hamlin, Busch extended his lead to 0.004 seconds on lap 2 – around six inches.
A determined Hamlin regained the lead on lap 3, but only by 0.011 seconds. The opening action set the tone for the entire race, which produced 31 lead changes among 13 different drivers.
But what happened at the front of the peloton was multiplied exponentially by aggressive, close racing throughout the peloton.
On lap 192 – eight laps before halfway – the close competition ended badly. In turn two after a restart after the 10th caution, Ryan Blaney’s #12 Ford snagged the apron with the left front tire and spun sideways.
This misstep sparked a 13-car wreck that eliminated the contending cars of Blaney, Kurt Busch and William Byron.
“I was stuck behind 8 (Tyler Reddick), and he was a little lower than I thought on the front stretch and kind of went through the turf, then got to (turn) 1 and shot at right,” Blaney said after the wreckage. “I think he was behind the 99 (Suárez) and thought he was going to hit the apron, and I didn’t have time to get it right, and I just hit the apron and I got detached. I hate that other cars got torn up.
This wreck would not be the last. At the end of the race, 17 of the 37 cars that started the event were already in the garage in various states of disrepair.
Kevin Harvick finished third, followed by Briscoe and Christopher Bell. Tyler Reddick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Larson and Alex Bowman complete the top 10.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is Sunday’s Enjoy Illinois 300 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM), the circuit’s first event at World Wide Technology Raceway outside of St. Louis.
To note: The Cup Series garage inspection was completed without issue, confirming Hamlin as the winner of the race. Nos. 4, 5, 8 and 20 will return to the R&D center for further inspection.