Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, NC — May 30, 2021
There is no shortage of storylines as the NASCAR Cup Series visits Charlotte Motor Speedway for a crown jewel of the sport, the Coca-Cola 600. The race is the longest on the circuit, a 600-mile test of man and machine at the mile and a half speedway just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. The event includes a celebration of American Servicemen and remembers those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country as part of the Memorial Day weekend festivities. Each racecar carries the name of one of those soldiers across the upper portion of the front windshield.
With almost all of the race teams being located in the vicinity, it’s a home race for everyone. Foremost on the list of talking points is that 15 races into the season, last year’s winningest drivers Kevin Harvick(4) and Denny Hamlin(11) have yet to visit victory lane in 2021.
According to NASCAR, “Ten drivers scored their first career win at Charlotte, and seven of those first-time winners did so in the Coca-Cola 600. Those winners were David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Bobby Labonte (1995), Matt Kenseth (2000), Casey Mears (2007), David Reutimann (2009), and Austin Dillon (2017). A first-time winner tonight will narrow the available playoff spots open to drivers hoping to qualify based on points.
Chase Elliott(9), last week’s winner, had his spotter Eddie D’Hondt suspended by NASCAR indefinitely after D’Hondt was arrested in an incident of domestic violence.
Last year’s Coca-Cola 600 winner, Brad Keselowski(2), has the early silly season a buzz with rumors that he will leave Team Penske at the end of this year’s contract. Everyone in the garage seems to know that Brad will join Roush/Fenway racing as both a driver and an ownership partner, but no one will confirm it.
Kurt Busch(1) announced he will retire at the end of the 2021 season.
Tonight’s race is 400 laps making up the 600 miles. There will be four stages instead of the normal three. Each stage is 100 laps/ 150 miles. Practice and qualifying were held at the track this weekend with Kyle Larson(5) winning the pole and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. starting beside him on the front row.
At the drop of the green flag, Larson drove off into Turn 1 opening a gap between himself and Stenhouse. He held the lead without a challenge until green flag pitstops commenced halfway through the Stage. After pit service was completed on all cars, Larson held over a one-second lead on Elliott in 2nd place. They were followed by William Byron(24), Harvick, and Austin Dillon(3).
Larson led 90 laps in dominating the 1st Stage. He put 20 of the 38 competitors at least a lap down in the first 100 circuits on the track. It was Larson’s 7th Stage win of the season.
Stage 1 Results
|7||19||Martin Truex Jr.||4|
|9||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The top of the running order changed somewhat after pit stops. Larson held onto the lead off pit road, he was followed by Elliott, Harvick, Byron, and Kyle Busch(18). Larson led the first 32 laps of Stage 2 until being passed by his teammate Chase Elliott.
Pit strategy follows that of Stage 1 where the teams choose to split the 2nd Stage in half as cars begin coming to pit road 47 laps in.
Teammates Ross Chastain(42) and Kurt Busch(1) both experienced engine problems with the same mechanical malfunction. The belt that drives the water pump and oil pump broke causing a trip to the garage for repairs by both drivers. Busch went back on the track but before he could get up to speed his engine exploded bringing out the caution on Lap 172.
Pit strategies were varied as teams set up for the sprint to the end of Stage 2. When on track position battles settled out it was Larson, Elliott, Alex Bowman(48), Byron, and Kyle Busch racing to the green and white checkered flag.
Larson backed up his win in Stage 1 with a repeat in Stage 2. A potential concern for the Hendrick Motorsports drivers. Both Chastain and Busch were running engines built by the Hendrick garage.
Stage 2 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
At the end of Stage 2 drivers brought their cars to pit road in single file, engines were shut off, and the entire Charlotte Motor Speedway paused in a moment of silence to honor those who died in service to our country.
Larson led the first 30 laps of Stage 3 until being passed by teammate William Byron. Scheduled pit stops began 45 laps into the Stage with teams trying to gain a slight advantage by getting fresh tires a few laps early. After pit service cycled through. Larson regained the lead.
The next win by a member of Hendrick Motorsports will be the 269th victory by the team in NASCAR Cup competition and will break the tie for most team wins that is currently shared with Petty Enterprises.
With 10 laps to go in the Stage, Byron closed to the bumper of Larson. Ryan Newman(6) hit the wall when a right rear tire went down 5 laps before the end of the Stage. Which ended under caution instead of a sprint racing to the flag.
Stage 3 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Larson, Kyle Busch, Byron, Bowman, and Elliott will start the final stage as the leaders. Does anyone have anything to keep Larson from completing the sweep of all four segments of the race?
Larson has led more laps than any other competitor during the 2021 Cup Season. But, he has only visited victory lane once.
Byron was the first of the leaders to come to pit road, for hopefully the final time, with 55 laps to go. The rest of the leaders followed suit quickly. Larson pitted with 53 to go.
The running order after stops were completed, Larson, Elliott, Byron, Kyle Busch, and Bowman. Hamlin, who has been hanging around the Top 10 all evening, sits in 6th place entering the final 50 laps.
Without a caution flag, the cards are stacked in Larson’s favor as he leads Elliott by over 3 seconds with 45 laps to go.
While the leaders worked through lapped traffic the interval fluctuated slightly. With 25 laps left to the finish, the lead was 3.4 seconds.
With 10 laps to go, the interval had ballooned to over 8 seconds. Larson completed the sweep to completely dominate all 4 segments of the race. His win gave team owner Rick Hendrick the most Cup wins in NASCAR history. A position the Petty’s had held since the 1960s. It’s a record that will likely stand longer.
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||486||In Win(3)|
|2||Kyle Larson||557||In Win(2)|
|3||Alex Bowman||405||In Win(2)|
|4||William Byron||557||In Win|
|5||Chase Elliott||541||In Win|
|6||Joey Logano*||506||In Win|
|7||Ryan Blaney*||482||In Win|
|8||Kyle Busch||476||In Win|
|9||Brad Keselowski*||448||In Win|
|10||Christopher Bell||350||In Win|
|11||Michael McDowell*||346||In Win|
|NASCAR Playoff Cut Line|
|18||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||308||-62|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway
|12||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||24.638||400|
|29||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-9||391|