CONCORD, N.C.—This was the one race Denny Hamlin has been dreaming about.
Hamlin finally got the win he has coveted for the last 17 years, holding off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in overtime Sunday night to win the longest—and perhaps wildest—Coca-Cola 600 in history.
Hamlin won for the 48th time in the Cup Series, and for the time in a points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It is so special. That is the last big one that is not on my resume,” said Hamlin, who has won the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500 three times each and the All-Star Race. “We weren’t very good all day, but got ourselves in the right place at the right time.”
Car owner Joe Gibbs said he knew this was an important win for Hamlin.
“With Denny to race that hard and that long and to be here and know how important this race is right here in our backyard, this is just a huge deal,” Gibbs said.
NASCAR’s longest and most grueling race lasted more than five hours and took 619 miles to complete. There were 18 caution flags and 16 drivers failed to finish. The race featured a 12-car wreck and a magnificent crash that sent Chris Buescher’s car flipping over five times before stopping upside down.
“This is the wildest and craziest 600 that has ever happened,” TV analyst Clint Bowyer said at one point on the Fox Sports broadcast.
Defending race champion Kyle Larson had struggled with adversity all night, incurring two pit penalties, a fire in his pit stall and on the back of his car, and a spin out. Yet he found himself with a golden chance to win when he took the lead with 46 laps left.
But with two laps left, Chase Briscoe tried to pass Larson and crashed, bringing out the yellow caution flag and sending the race to overtime.
Larson had the inside lane on the restart in overtime, but Austin Dillon got a push from the second row and soon was running four-wide along with Larson, Hamlin, and Ross Chastain.
But a crash ensued involving several cars with Larson nipping Dillon, sending both cars spinning.
“I got a little loose and tried to make it stick,” Dillon said. “It didn’t quite work out there. I had to do what I had to do to win the race given where we are in points. We had a shot there to bring home another 600.”
The crash ended Larson’s chance to become the first repeat winner of the event since Jimmie Johnson won three straight from 2003–05. Larson wound up finishing ninth.
It also set up Hamlin for the win.
On the next restart, Hamlin took the lead and held off Busch for the win. Kevin Harvick finished third and Briscoe was fourth.
“Considering how my day went, I was going to be content with a fourth-place finish,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin said it all worked out perfectly.
“I’ve been a Coke family driver for 18 years. Never won the Coke 600 before. This means a lot,” Hamlin said.
There was a huge wreck on lap 192 where Ryan Blaney, who won last weekend’s All-Star race, got too low on the apron at the bottom of the track and spun back up the track. That started a chain reaction that caught up 12 cars, sending some of NASCAR’s top stars—Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, William Byron, and Chase Elliott among them—behind the wall for good.
Elliott led 93 laps before the crash and appeared to be the car to beat.
“It’s chaos out there,” Byron said. “You can’t drive the car the slightest bit sideways or you’re wrecked. So, if somebody gets a little bit sideways, then we all wreck. It either takes out other people or they spin to the infield. Just chaos.”
Said Busch: “I think I hit about 15 different things.”
Blaney said the wreck occurred when he got too low on the apron at the bottom of the track.
“Gosh I hate it,” Blaney said. “Makes you feel pretty dumb for doing that. I hate it tore up our car and a handful of others. … I just didn’t know where I was at and just made a mistake.”
The carnage wasn’t over as Buescher’s No. 17 Ford flipped five times before landing on its roof after a collision on the front stretch with Daniel Suarez. Buescher had to wait until track officials flipped his car back over before he could get out of the car.
He said that it was more painful than his previous flip in Talladega.
“I do appreciate them for helping me and setting it back over again, so thank you to everybody working for not slamming it back,” Buescher said. “It was nice to be able to get out. The blood is rushing to your head a little bit. I guess I could have pulled the belts and fallen right to the ground, but figured I’d just wait on them.”
Elliott won the first stage, while TrackHouse Racing teammates Suarez and Chastain won the second and third stages, respectively.
The race also included Tanner Andrews, a tire changer for Joey Logano’s pit crew, getting his right foot clipped by pole sitter Hamlin on pit road.
The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the St. Louis area on Sunday.
By Steve Reed