With military tributes abounding and NASCAR patriotism at its best, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 55th annual running of the sport’s longest race, the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Surprising: In a sport where man so often is at the mercy of machine, the competitive spirit of the drivers surprisingly triumphed over whatever difficulties they were facing in their race cars.
One such example of perseverance was Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, who triumphed over back spasms that were so severe that he missed final practice to finish the longest race of the season in the seventh spot.
“It was tough,” Gordon said after the race. “I was aching in there. There was one time when I got on the brakes into (Turn) 1 and it triggered something. I didn’t know what was going to happen after that, but it settled down.”
“I’m happy that I got through it. It tells me a lot about what kind of threshold I have and I just want to show this team the kind of commitment I have to them because of what they have shown me this year.”
The driver who triumphed most mightily over his race machines, however, was Kurt Busch, who raced his heart out in the Indianapolis 500, finishing sixth in his rookie effort, and then went on to race in the Coke 600, only to have his engine give up the ghost on Lap 271.
“To feel the stock car right after driving the Indy car was a day I’ll never forget,” the driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Made in America Chevrolet, said. “I can’t let the mood here with the car dampen what happened up at Indy today. That was very special.”
“Andretti Autosport gave me a top-five car to try and win the 500 with, and these Stewart-Haas guys gave me a good car too,” Busch continued. “The motor just went, sometimes that happens. All in all I gave it my all.”
Not Surprising: For Hendrick Motorsports, with their headquarters just up the road from the speedway, there truly is no place like home. And for race winner, Jimmie Johnson, and his team owner Rick Hendrick, Charlotte Motor Speedway is like coming home.
“I think, number one, Charlotte is kind of home,” Mr. H said after the race. “Won my first NASCAR race here with Sr. in ’83 in the Nationwide or Busch Series. It’s a special place, all the families here.”
“Winning a race, Jimmie and Chad have been so close this year, and several situations got away,” Mr. Hendrick continued. “To get this one behind us is great.”
This home track win was Johnson’s first of the season, his 67th victory in 44 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and his seventh win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet also broke the tie with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip as the all-time series points wins leader at Charlotte.
Surprising: Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had surprisingly much in common in the Coke 600, starting out strong and then both going down for the count with engine issues. Junior finished 19th and Patrick finished an even more disappointing 39th.
“We had a little bit of an engine issue or something cropping up,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard/Superman Chevrolet said. “But it was very fast. I was very happy with the speed.”
“We were able to at least finish 19th,” Junior continued. “We could have blowed up and finished in the back. You’re going to have some bad weeks and you’ve got to be able to roll with them. This was one of them and we just have to look at the positives and try not to dwell too much on what happened.”
“Yeah, it’s really unfortunate,” Patrick said, echoing the words of Dale Earnhardt Jr. “We started off great and started to get tighter and tighter. We couldn’t really figure out how to fix it.”
“We had a good plan, then dropped a cylinder and lost power, then got rear-ended,” the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet continued. “That was our day. We’ll just remember the good stuff that happened here at Charlotte and at Kansas last race and build on that for Dover.”
Not Surprising: Kevin Harvick did not close and was not fast in the pits so therefore it was not surprising that he also was not happy after the race, even though he finished second.
“We shot ourselves in the foot again,” the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet said. “We left two wheels loose and played catch up the rest of the night.”
“We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot on pit road,” Harvick continued. “We have to clean that up because we obviously can’t win races with the fastest car if we make mistakes continuously on pit road. It’s frustrating.”
Surprising: Jamie Mac is back, backing up his All Star race win with a top-five finish in his No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet.
“Our car was fast enough that even when we went to the back, we were able to recover and get back to the top-five, which was great,” McMurray said. “We’ve had such good cars all year long and have not been able to capitalize because of tire issues or just some bad luck.”
“So I’m excited we won last week. We ran really good again this week. Just an all-around good night.”
Not Surprising: Carl Edwards, one of Ford’s best pitch men, credited his manufacturer’s fuel mileage for getting him a fourth place finish and scoring top honors for Ford in the race.
“That’s Ford fuel mileage right here,” the driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion said. “You talk about Fords getting great fuel mileage and they did today.”
“Our car finished fourth and that was probably as good as we deserved to finish,” Edwards continued. “We did have a good run.”
Surprising: This time, rookie Austin Dillon actually finished ahead of ROTY competitor Kyle Larson to tighten up that rookie recognition battle. Dillon scored the 16th finishing spot while Larson finished two behind in 18th.
“I’m proud of everyone’s effort on this No. 3 Cheerios Chevrolet team this weekend,” Dillon said. “It was not a bad finish considering all of the challenges we battled during the race.”
Not Surprising: Pleased but not satisfied was the theme for the top-finishing Toyota drivers. Matt Kenseth finished third in his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota and Brian Vickers had a great run, finishing sixth in his No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota.
“I thought we had a top-five car — a lot of it was definitely an improvement,” Kenseth said. “Just needed a little more and couldn’t quite run with the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and a couple of them other cars. Overall, it was a good night for our Home Depot Husky Tools Camry — we just have to get just a little better.”
“Our Camry was good all night,” Vickers said. “We were really close to top-five and probably close to a win, we just needed a little more speed.”
“The guys did a great job and just really proud of them,” Vickers continued. “Pleased but not satisfied.”
Surprising: Paul Menard had a surprisingly good run in his No. 27 Serta/Menards Chevrolet at Charlotte, finishing in the eighth spot after starting 21st.
“We had a great finish tonight in Charlotte considering where we started,” Menard said. “It was a hard fought race the for No. 27 Serta/Menards team, but with some strategy and adjustments we were able salvage what could have been a tough night.”
“This race in Charlotte is a tough one, but we finished strong.”
Not Surprising: Ryan Newman, behind the wheel of the No. 31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet, epitomized the spirit of the weekend as he never quit and never gave up in spite of cutting down a tire on Lap 293 and finishing 15th in the Coca Cola 600.
“This Quicken Loans team persevered this weekend,” Newman declared. “We had quite a bit to overcome, but we never gave up.”
“We started from the back after an issue in qualifying and had a Chevrolet good enough to race all the way up to ninth position before we had a tire cut down on a restart,” Newman continued. “I have to hand it to this team; we never gave up through all the adversity.”
“I will never stop fighting and nor will my crew, we’ll be fine.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves on next weekend to pay a visit to Miles the Monster in the 45th Annual FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware.