Keselowski captures the Coca-Cola 600 in overtime

Seizing a late opportunity when it counted most, Brad Keselowski fought his way from the rear of the field and held off Jimmie Johnson in overtime to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The victory was Keselowski’s 31st of his NASCAR Cup Series career, his second at Charlotte and his third crown jewel win after claiming the Southern 500 and the Brickyard 400 in 2018. With his victory, Keselowski became the fifth competitor to win a race in the 2020 Cup season and the 36th to win NASCAR’s longest event of the season.

Qualifying was held earlier in the day with Kurt Busch starting on pole position and Johnson starting alongside on the front row. Matt DiBenedetto started at the rear of the field in a backup car after damaging his primary car entering Turn 4 while qualifying. Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Timmy Hill and J.J. Yeley also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments.

When the engines fired, early drama unfolded for recent Cup winner Denny Hamlin when a chunk of ballast/tungsten weight came out of the side rails of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota and fell on the race track while the field was exiting pit road and starting the pace laps. Following the opening pace laps, Hamlin surrendered his 13th-starting spot and made his way to his pit stall as his crew went to work to replace the component while the on-track safety workers removed the ballast from the racing surface.


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When the green flag waved, Busch launched ahead and maintained a steady advantage over Johnson as the field ran single file. By the eighth lap, Hamlin’s crew repaired the missing component and he rejoined the field, but was eight laps behind the leaders.

A competition caution flew on Lap 20 with Busch having led all of the opening laps. The field made their way to pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. Once the stops concluded, Busch maintained the lead. Behind him, Martin Truex Jr. jumped from sixth to second while Johnson dropped from second to fourth. Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez were sent to the rear of the field due to a pit road penalty as their respective crew members were over the pit wall too early prior to the stops. Erik Jones was also sent to the rear due to an uncontrolled tire violation.

On a Lap 28 restart, Busch launched ahead followed by Truex and Chase Elliott while Johnson and rookie Tyler Reddick raced side by side, battling for fourth. The following lap, Johnson slipped up the racing groove in Turn 2 and dropped all the way back to 13th. Johnson’s misfortune moved Reddick to fourth and Joey Logano to fifth.

The second caution came out on Lap 49 due to rain. The field made their way to pit road, where the crew covered the cars and the competitors were allowed to exit their respective rides as the race was red-flagged in a rain delay.

Following a rain delay of 68 minutes, the drivers returned to their cars, restarted their engines and returned on track under caution as the sky darkened and the speedway lights came on. The field pitted on Lap 55 and Alex Bowman, who was 13th, exited pit road first following a gusty two-tire pit call made by crew chief Greg Ives. Truex, the first to take four tires, exited second followed by Elliott, Kurt Busch and Reddick. During the pit stop, Logano’s rear-tire changer slipped while making his way to change the right-rear tire, but the driver of the No. 22 Ford was able to exit out in sixth.

When the race restarted on Lap 58, teammates Bowman and Elliott pulled away from the field as the field scattered with a multitude of competitors duking side-by-side toward one another for position. On Lap 61, Elliott narrowed the gap to be within a tenth of a second behind Bowman, but his Hendrick Motorsports teammate retained the lead on two fresh tires. 

Meanwhile, by Lap 68, Kyle Busch, who started 11th, moved up to sixth while his older brother, Kurt, fell back to seventh. Johnson, who restarted 11th, worked his way back into the top 10. 

On Lap 76, Elliott was able to draw himself back to the rear bumper of Bowman, who was fighting loose conditions. In Turn 2, Elliott caught a whiff of a lead on the outside lane of Bowman and raced side-by-side with his teammate through the straightaway until he got loose in Turn 3. The slip by Elliott allowed Bowman to retain the lead and pull away by more than a second. Elliott was drawn back to a battle for second with Truex.

Lap 86 featured a save of the day as Blaney bumped into the rear bumper of Christopher Bell, causing Bell to slip sideways in Turn 3. Miraculously, Bell prevented his car from spinning and was able to straighten his car below the apron and rejoin the racing surface without a scratch while dropping from 13th to 19th.

With three laps remaining in the first stage, Truex gained a huge run on leader Bowman in Turn 4. He was establishing a possible pass for the lead when the caution came out as Clint Bowyer made hard contact into the Turn 1 wall due to a possible cut tire and parked his car against the wall in a shower of sparks. Bowyer emerged uninjured, but his night came to a disappointing end.

The stage concluded under caution with Bowman winning his second stage of the season. Truex finished second followed by Elliott, Reddick, Logano. Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Johnson, William Byron and Kurt Busch were in the top 10 at the time of caution. By then, Blaney, who started 26th, was 12th. Erik Jones, who was penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation under pit stops on Lap 55, was 13th. Keselowski, who started at the rear due to unapproved adjustments, was 15th.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Bowman, again, maintained the lead. Behind him, Kyle Busch gained four spots to second followed by Truex, Elliott and Logano over Reddick.

When the second stage started on Lap 106, Bowman received a push from Truex to pull ahead of Busch. In Turn 4, Truex cleared Busch for second, where he would settle as Bowman started to pull away from the field. 

As the race progressed, a multitude of competitors started racing two-wide, three-wide for position. In the midst of the battle, Ryan Newman moved to eighth behind Byron while Chris Buescher moved to 12th ahead of Kevin Harvick. Jones, who restarted 12th, continued to march his way forward to eighth while Reddick fell back to ninth. Matt Kenseth, who started fourth but was shuffled to midpack following the Lap 55 pit stop, had only made his way back to 18th. Bubba Wallace, who was running within the top 20, made an unscheduled pit stop, but took his No. 43 Chevrolet to the garage due to brake issues. 

Green flag pit stops commenced on Lap 110 as the leaders entered pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments. During the pit sequence, Kenseth was tabbed with a speeding penalty, which cost him two laps. After most of the leaders pitted, by Lap 163, Johnson was one of seven drivers who did not stop. Johnson led three laps before he pitted for two tires. Two laps later, Ryan Preece surrendered the lead to his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to pit. A lap later, Bowman reassumed command of the field and was up by two seconds over Truex and more than six seconds over Kyle Busch.

By Lap 185, Aric Almirola, who pitted on Lap 54 to have his front splitter repaired that sustained minimal damage from hitting the tungsten from Hamlin’s car, worked his way up to 16th. Hamlin, meanwhile, was back in 35th, trapped nine laps behind the leaders.

For the final laps, no one would have anything for Bowman as the Tucson, AZ, native cruised to the second stage win by more than three seconds over Truex and nearly nine seconds over Kyle Busch. Byron made a late surge to finish fourth ahead of teammate Elliott. Jones, Logano, Austin Dillon, Blaney and Johnson finished in the top 10.

Under caution during the halfway mark, the pace car led the field to pit road and the race halted for a 30-second silence of remembrance to pay tribute for the fallen service men and women on Memorial Day weekend.

When the cars returned to the track and the field made their way to pit road on the following lap for service, Bowman led the field off pit road first followed by Kyle Busch, Truex, Byron and Jones while Austin Dillon gained two spots to sixth. Disaster quickly ensued for Busch, whose No. 18 Toyota was caught exiting pit road beyond the pit road speed limit and was sent to the rear of the field.

A restart on Lap 209 featured the entire field locked in a heated side-by-side battle before Bowman cleared everyone in Turn 4. Six laps later, a three-way battle for the lead started brewing as Truex drew himself within a car length of Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet with Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet lurking. In addition, Jones joined the party and remained within striking distance of Byron.

On Lap 224, Truex used the lapped car of Joey Gase running on the outside lane to go three wide on the inside lane and, finally, pass Bowman for the lead. By Lap 235, Truex held a one and a half second lead over Bowman. During this time, Jones moved to third past Byron, Blaney moved past Austin Dillon for fifth and Kyle Busch worked his way to 16th following his penalty.

Meanwhile, Newman, who was running inside the top 20, made a pit stop with concerns of battery issues on Lap 237. Seventeen laps later, a second round of green flag stops started when Kurt Busch pitted. Four laps later, after most of the leaders pitted, Keselowski assumed the lead, but was one of three drivers that had yet to pit. Keselowski led seven laps before making the left-hand turn to pit road, allowing Truex to regain the lead and pull away by two seconds over teammate Jones. 

On Lap 275, as Jones and Bowman were battling for second, the caution flag was displayed when Kenseth slipped in Turn 1 and slapped the outside wall. As Kenseth made his way to pit road to have the damage repaired, most of the leaders pitted as Logano, Harvick and Elliott opted to remain on track on old tires. Truex exited pit road first and one of seven drivers who pitted for two tires while Jones, who exited eighth, was the first competitor who had four tires changed on his machine.

With 19 laps remaining in the third stage, Logano made his way to the lead followed by Truex and Bowman as the field scattered while scrambling for positions. Logano, despite racing with only two fresh tires, was able to maintain his advantage in clean air while Harvick and Elliott slowly drifted out of the top 10 on old tires. As the laps dwindled, Bowman worked his way back to second and drew himself as close as two-tenths behind Logano, but he lost his momentum in Turn 3. With no late challenges being mounted towards him, Logano was able to win the second stage and claim his first stage victory of the season. Bowman was second followed by Blaney, Johnson, Truex. Kyle Busch, Jones, Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Byron finished in the top 10.

Under the next round of pit stops, DiBenedetto exited first, having pitted for two tires, followed by Logano, the first on four tires. Bowman, Truex, Kyle Busch and Johnson followed in pursuit.

The start of the final stage with 94 laps remaining provided another intense round of racing up-front as Truex shoved DiBenedetto into the lead through Turns 2 and 3. Logano, however, slipped in Turn 3 and nearly wiped out his teammate Blaney as he was shuffled all the way back to eighth. Six laps remaining, Truex reassumed the lead over DiBenedetto in Turn 3 as DiBenedetto was overtaken by Johnson for second a lap later. In the midst of the battle, Kurt Busch made an unscheduled pit stop due to a loose right-rear wheel, costing him a lap. With 75 laps remaining, Bowman moved to third while DiBenedetto dropped to fifth. Byron, Jones, Elliott and Blaney were in sixth, eighth, ninth and 10th while Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were in 11th and 13th.

A caution came out with 52 laps remaining when Joey Gase spun in the Turn 4 infield. A lap later, leaders pitted and Johnson exited as the leader followed by Keselowski, Truex, Elliott and Byron. Logano, who exited 11th, was too fast exiting and sent to the rear.

While Johnson led the field to a restart with 47 laps remaining, Keselowski made his move on the inside lane to assume command in Turn 2 followed by Elliott as Johnson dropped to third. Truex, meanwhile, settled in fourth in front of teammates Byron and Bowman. With 38 laps remaining, Elliott seized an opportunity to pull alongside Keselowski in Turn 2 and he was able to snatch the lead the following turn. 

With the laps dwindling and with a steady lead over Keselowski and Johnson, it had appeared that Elliott was en route to not only his first Coke 600 win, but also redemption following his late accident at Darlington last Wednesday.

Then, like a bomb, the caution flew with two laps remaining when teammate Byron blew a left-rear tire and spun below the apron in Turn 1. The late caution sent the race into overtime.

When pit road opened, Elliott led Truex, Kyle Busch and a bevy of competitors to pit. Eight competitors, however, remained on track as Keselowski reassumed the lead followed by Johnson, Bowman, Blaney, Austin Dillon, Reddick, DiBenedetto and Jones.

In overtime, Keselowski was able to clear the field in Turn 2 followed by Johnson and Blaney as the field scattered and the competitors scrambled for positions with little time remaining. On the final lap, Johnson gave it one attempt to draw himself to the rear bumper of Keselowski in Turn 2, but Keselowski managed to pull away through the final two corners and capture his first checkered flag of the 2020 season.

“[The win] means a lot to me,” Keselowski said. “Memorial Day’s a lot more about more than racing, but we’re glad to be able to do cool things like racing because of the freedom provided by those that are willing to make those sacrifices. I feel like I’ve thrown this race away a handful of times and I thought we were gonna lose it today. I know we’ve lost it the way Chase [Elliott] lost it and that really stinks. Today, we finally won it that way and I’m so happy for my team. We might not have been the fastest car today, but wow, did we just grind this one out. It’s a major [event]. It’s the Coke 600. That leaves one major left for me, the Daytona 500. We’re checking them off. I’m tickled to death. It’s a little overwhelming, to be honest.”

Elliott, who restarted 11th, fought his way back to third in two laps behind Johnson.

“It’s just part of it,” Elliott said. “Just trying to make the best decision you can and those guys are gonna do the opposite of whatever you do. You make decisions and live with’em. That was the decision we were put in. Part of it.”

During post-race inspection, however, disaster struck for Johnson when his No. 48 Chevrolet failed the rear alignment numbers in the Optical Scanning Station portion according to the NASCAR Rule Book. As a result, Johnson’s runner-up finish and 39 points earned, including 11 stage points, were stripped, leaving him with no points and a last-place finish of the 40-car field while marked disqualified. With Johnson’s disqualification, Elliott was promoted into the runner-up position followed by Blaney, Kyle Busch and Harvick. Truex, Kurt Busch, Reddick, Bell and Buescher finished in the top 10.

The race featured lead 20 changes with 11 different leaders. There were eight cautions for 52 laps. At 405 laps, 607.6 miles, this marked the longest Cup race ever in mileage.

Harvick continues to lead in the regular-season series standings by 23 points over Logano and 25 over Bowman.

Results:

1. Brad Keselowski, 21 laps led

2. Chase Elliott, 38 laps led

3. Ryan Blaney

4. Kyle Busch

5. Kevin Harvick

6. Martin Truex Jr., 87 laps led

7. Kurt Busch, 54 laps led

8. Tyler Reddick

9. Christopher Bell 

10. Chris Buescher

11. Erik Jones

12. Cole Custer

13. Joey Logano, 26 laps led

14. Austin Dillon

15. Aric Almirola

16. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap led

17. Matt DiBenedetto, six laps led

18. Michael McDowell

19. Alex Bowman, 164 laps led

20. William Byron – one lap down

21. Ross Chastain – two laps down

22. Ryan Preece – one lap led, two laps down

23. Corey LaJoie – two laps down

24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – one lap led, three laps down

25. Ty Dillon – four laps down

26. Matt Kenseth – four laps down

27. Ryan Newman – five laps down

28. Daniel Suarez – six laps down

29. Denny Hamlin – seven laps down

30. Brennan Poole – seven laps down

31. Gray Gaulding – eight laps down

32. B.J. McLeod – 12 laps down

33. Garrett Smithley – 14 laps down

34. Timmy Hill – 15 laps down

35. Quin Houff – 15 laps down

36. Joey Gase – 20 laps down

37. J.J. Yeley – OUT

38. Bubba Wallace – OUT

39. Clint Bowyer – OUT

40. Jimmie Johnson – six laps led, DQ’d

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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