Denny Hamlin wins Coca-Cola 600, longest race in NASCAR history
Brenden Martin recaps the 2022 Coca-Cola 600 where pole-sitter Denny Hamlin returned to the lead right at the end to claim victory in the longest NASCAR race of all time at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
5 hours, 13 minutes and 6 seconds.
That was how long the 2022 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway took. Pair the race’s length with 18 cautions, two overtimes and a record 619.5 miles, then you get arguably the wildest race in NASCAR history.
After all the shifting at the front of the pack, the lead cycled back to the pole-sitter, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Denny Hamlin, who made a daring four-wide pass on the inside to put himself in position to get his second win this season and his 48th career Cup Series victory to tie him at 16th all-time.
The win was Hamlin’s first career victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway, adding another check to his list of crown jewel races he has won.
“It’s the last big one that’s not on my resume,” Hamlin said to Fox Sports’ Regan Smith. “It meant so much.”
Hamlin led the first 10 laps of the race from pole, battling against one of his own cars driven by 23XI Racing No. 45 Kurt Busch. It took until Lap 4 for Hamlin to clear Busch, only to be passed by his brother, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Kyle Busch on Lap 10.
The race, with 13 different leaders, came full circle in the second overtime as the two JGR cars battled for the first lead change and fought for the race win after what felt like an eternity of a race.
The carnage began slowly and subtly in the opening laps with a trio of cars spinning simultaneously.
In what somehow wasn’t the strangest thing that happened all night, the No. 15 car of Ryan Preece, No. 16 Noah Gragson and No. 17 Chris Buescher all spun simultaneously on Lap 18. Numerical coincidence aside, the wreck was a precursor to the carnage most teams saw at some point. Preece damaged his left rear tow link ending his jam-packed weekend prematurely.
Busch held on to the lead for the first half of Stage 1 until Trackhouse Racing No. 99 Daniel Suarez made a pass for the lead that Busch couldn’t handle. Busch got loose as Suarez swished by, causing him to spin with minimal contact.
Busch fell a lap down but was quickly put back on the lead lap by getting the free pass as Spire Motorsports No. 7 Corey LaJoie suffered a hard wreck that was nearly identical to his practice crash the day before.
Bob Pockrass @bobpockrassCaution for LaJoie. Another hard wreck. KyBusch will be the free pass and get back on the lead lap.
Going into the race, JGR was deemed the team to beat given its strong outing at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago and an even stronger qualifying session on Saturday.
Hendrick Motorsports, which has a history of success at Charlotte, threw its hat in the ring last year’s Coca-Cola 600 runner-up No. 9 Chase Elliott winning multiple races off pit road to put him in the lead and bring him to a Stage 1 victory, his third of the season and first on the Charlotte oval.
Bob Pockrass @bobpockrassFirst stage top-10: Elliott Reddick Bell Chastain Wallace Blaney Stenhouse Truex Bowman Hamlin .... 17th-KyBusch, 28th-Larson, 29th-Suarez
Stage 2 was where Trackhouse staked its claim as the most dominant team for a large portion of the race. While Suarez began fading late in Stage 1, his teammate, No. 1 Ross Chastain took the lead from Elliott on Lap 111.
On the ensuing pit stop cycle after a caution from 23XI Racing No. 23 Bubba Wallace, defending race winner Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Kyle Larson was going through an extremely tough time. After already having equipment issues on a previous pit stop, Larson fired away from his stall leaving a trail of fire in his pit box and causing a fire on his fuel intake.
Larson was down on himself for the entire first half of the race.
“I think this has been the worst race of my life and we're not even halfway," Larson said over his radio.
Cliff Daniels, Larson’s crew chief, had very strong words for the driver he helped guide to a championship last season.
“We went from the back to the front more times than I can count,” Daniels said. “We hit the wall. We spun out. We’ve literally caught on fire. We’re also the most penalized team on pit road in the first half. All that means is that in the second half already we’re going to be starting way better than where we started in the first half. We’ve got to go execute right now. So I don’t really know what the hell you’re worried about but I’m fine. The team’s fine. Everybody down here nodding their heads and giving a thumbs up so let's go.”
After a spin from Team Penske No. 2 Austin Cindric, Larson elected to stay out while most others pitted as the team looked to save its tires for the end. On old tires, Larson and Team Penske No. 12 Ryan Blaney both had issues that put them in the wall within a lap of each other. Blaney hit the wall but was able to keep going. However, Larson spun to bring out the caution while running 10th.
Bob Pockrass @bobpockrassCaution for Cindric. Would expect drivers to pit now with 54 laps left in the stage.
Larson became even more dejected with himself.
“I just spun,” Larson said. “I suck. Me. The driver. I suck."
The issues continued with yet another equipment interference penalty on pit road. Chastain and Elliott continued to battle up front near the end of Stage 2 when Suarez found the speed in his car again to challenge Elliott for second place.
The Trackhouse duo ran up front 1-2 as Elliott looked to regain position on Suarez. Elliott’s attempt to pass Suarez failed as he slid up into the wall and brought out the caution flag with 14 laps to go in Stage 2.
Elliott remained on pit road for the next restart, allowing him to avoid the big one. Blaney lost control trying to tail Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Tyler Reddick and sliding up the track and causing a dozen-car pile up.
The wreck thinned out much of the field, ending the days of Blaney as well as Kurt Busch, Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 William Byron and Roush Fenway Keselowski No. 6 Brad Keselowski.
The caution took Stage 2 to just four laps to go. Chastain held the lead at the restart but Suarez surpassed him a lap later to win his third-career stage and second this season. Chastain finished right behind him, securing a Trackhouse 1-2 stage finish.
By the halfway mark, the race had already taken over two and a half hours, showing that this race more than any other was going to be a war of attrition. 11 of the race’s 18 cautions occurred in the first half, but the race still fell short of the track record of 22 cautions.
“It's chaos out there,” Byron said to Fox Sports’ Vince Welch outside the infield care center. “You can't drive the car, any slight bit sideways is wrecked."
Suarez held serve early in Stage 3 with a three-wide pass for second and taking the lead back on Lap 214. The third stage saw relative calm until it neared its end. With a handful of strong cars taken out of the race. The Coca-Cola 600 took a page from superspeedways as names were racing near the front that many would not have expected. Gragson, who was involved in the first caution of the race, ran as high as eighth before eventually hitting the wall on Turn 4 while running in 12th.
The part-time Kaulig Racing driver finished 24th while running most of the laps, something he specifically aimed to do before the race.
Another surprise was The Money Team Racing No. 50 Kaz Grala. While nowhere near the pace of the pack and at one point being the only active car not on the lead lap and five laps down, Grala stayed out of trouble and kept his car wreck-free to give his team an all-time best 23rd-place finish.
Other smaller teams like Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Cody Ware and Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 BJ McLeod finished in the top 20.
Chastain, who has been the biggest surprise this season, led a career-high 153 laps en route to his Stage 3 win, which was also the third one in his career to give Trackhouse back-to-back stage victories.
Bob Pockrass @bobpockrassStage 3 results: Chastain Briscoe Larson Reddick Suarez Logano Suarez Buescher ADillon Hillon ... then Jones Truex Harvick Almirola Stenhouse McDowell Gilliland Bowman Burton (those are all the lead-lap cars)
The Coca-Cola 600 is the only race of the season with four stages instead of the usual three, making for an insane finish.
Once again, the first part of the stage was fairly tame as racers managed what was left of their tire supply. All that was quite literally flipped on its head with 54 laps to go when Suarez went sideways and collected a handful of cars, none affected more than RFK Racing No. 17 Chris Buescher.
Bouncing off of Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Todd Gilliland, Suarez careened into Buescher who all of the sudden got caught in the infield grass and flipped multiple times before landing on his roof.
The crash caused a red flag that lasted over 10 minutes as safety crews looked to get Buescher’s car flipped over as smoothly and safely as possible. Eventually, the car was flipped and Buescher climbed out and walked away under his own power to an ovation from the crowd.
“That was a little painful,” Buescher told Welch outside the infield care center. “I guess the tire just ripped off and sent us flipping."
This was just the second time a NextGen car has flipped in a race this season (Harrison Burton at Daytona), leading to the extra time safety crews needed to get it back on its tires. Buescher communicated to the crews he was fine, allowing them to take their time with the car.
As much as Buescher flipped in his wreck, Larson nearly flipped the result on its head.
The race he deemed “the worst race of my life” had him in the lead with 47 laps to go and a huge lead over Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chase Briscoe. However, Briscoe gradually closed in on Larson and caught him with two laps to go. Similar to his failed last-ditch move to pass for the lead at Bristol Dirt, Briscoe sent his car hard into Turn 1, but too hard for him to keep control of it as he spun and brought out the caution to lead to NASCAR Overtime.
Bob Pockrass @bobpockrassBriscoe spins trying to pass Larson. Caution.
“I was running 110%,” Briscoe told Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass. “It was a crown jewel race and looking back if I ran about 95% I probably would have won the race. That’s just inexperience and unacceptable on my part.”
Many cars elected to take two tires on the pit stop leading up to overtime. Hamlin was the first car to take four tires out of pit lane, a decision that worked wonders.
Hamlin used the new tires to make a huge run on the inside to go four-wide with Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Austin Dillon, Larson and Chastain. Dillon got turned trying to clear Larson, wiping out much of the remaining field right before Hamlin took the white flag.
As the control car in the second overtime, Hamlin held off Kyle Busch to become the third driver this season with multiple wins, joining Chastain and Byron by following up his win at Richmond Raceway last month.
It is going to be hard for NASCAR to follow up a race like this, but it will look to do so at a brand new track in the Cup Series, World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois for the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter on Sunday, June 5. The race will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET, much earlier than this week. It will be aired on Fox Sports 1 and can be listened to on Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.