Perhaps it was some sort of mystical clue, an omen maybe, that the first incident of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 involved cars with the numbers 15,16,17 who all spun out just after the race went past lap…you guessed it, 18.
That triple spinning auto dance was the first of 18 cautions in what turned out to be NASCAR’s longest race. Not just a marketing tagline, “longest race on the schedule” but actually the longest race in NASCAR, ever. The 413 laps that played out surpassed the prior record of 403 in 2020 at the same Coke 600 (which you know now is billed as the longest race on the schedule).
There was plenty of chaos and more than one broken heart squeezed in among those 413 record breaking laps. The race is the only one on the schedule that features 4 Stages. The first three Sunday were won by three different drivers, only two of whom were around at the end.
Chase Elliott led the second most laps on the night, 86, but any hope of adding an oval win to his Charlotte ROVAL victory ended on lap 188 when his Chevy had an untimely meeting with the wall followed shortly after by a larger meeting with 13 other cars that erupted when Ryan Blaney learned, the hard way, that you can’t let your car touch the apron, not even a little bit.
Mixed in all that chaos, was the sort of night for one driver that could have earned him the superhero badge as “Captain Chaos.”
Kyle Larson, who was the winner of a much more sedate Charlotte affair a year prior, led 51 laps on the night all in the second half of the race. The first half featured meetings with the wall, penalties, and as an added bonus a fuel fire. One that started in his pits and followed him via flames in the fuel filler for a lap on the track.
“This is the worst race of my life and we’re not even halfway,” Larson told his crew on the radio.
A few laps later he spun which elicited the comment ” I suck. Me. The driver. I suck,” over the same radio, from that same driver. This led to a motivational speech from his crew chief, who didn’t end it by saying, “Thanks for coming to my TED talk,” but probably could have.
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There was, no joke, a frightening crash in the waning laps set off when Daniel Suarez, who won Stage 2 and led 36 laps, got loose. The ensuing three car pileup ended with Christopher Buescher hanging upside down, but in the end okay. It also featured a demonstration of the amazing, well-practiced choreography of the safety crew that showed why they get paid the big bucks, or maybe just why they get paid.
Ross Chastain won Stage 3, and led the most laps, 153. He tried hard to win the final Stage for all the money, but Austin Dillon would have none of it spoiling the party and allowing Denny Hamlin to get his daughter that vintage coke machine he promised her last Christmas.
Once the dust settled and the clock struck midnight, okay maybe a little past midnight, or a lot past midnight, the sellout crowd jammed the roads snaking out of Concord smiling at what they had just witnessed and understanding that sometimes there is beauty in chaos.
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