Winning the Coca-Cola 600 was worth the wait for Brad Keselowski.
NASCAR’s longest race of the season set a record after going into overtime--and into the early hours of Monday--at Charlotte Motor Speedway as Keselowski held off Jimmie Johnson for the win.
Keselowski, an avid supporter of veterans, embraced the victory and celebrated by flying the American flag en route to Victory Lane.
“Oh my goodness, thank you guys,” Keselowski said. “Awesome pit stops. Really put us in position. I’ve wanted this race for so long.”
The No. 2 team’s decision to not pit after William Byron triggered the eighth and final caution with two laps remaining, ultimately sealed the win. Chase Elliott, who had held the point for 36 laps prior, followed the direction of crew chief Alan Gustafson and pitted. Keselowski was running second at the time, stayed the course.
“Those guys are coming don’t you think,” Elliott radioed to his crew. When only Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. followed the No. 9 down pit road, Elliott said, “That has to be a joke, right?”
Unfortunately, the joke was on Elliott as Keselowski and Johnson lined up for the first attempt at the green-white-checkered. Keselowski beat Johnson by .293-seconds at the line for his first win of 2020 and the 31st victory of his career.
“It means a lot to me, but I can’t help but think about the Reep family and Donovan,” Keselowski said of the fallen soldier he honored on the No. 2 Ford. “I hope they’re watching. I know the race ran really late, but Memorial Day is about a lot more than racing, but we’re glad to be able to do cool things like racing because of the freedom provided by those willing to make the sacrifices.
“I feel like I’ve thrown this race away a handful of times and I felt we were gonna lose it today. I know we’ve lost it the way Chase lost it and that really stinks, and today we finally won it that way and I’m so happy for my team. I wish my wife was here. I wish my daughters were here. It’s a major. It’s the Coke 600 and this leaves only one major left for me, the Daytona 500, so we’re checking them off.”
Elliott finished third but the result was hardly a consolation. After the disappointment of being dumped by Kyle Busch at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday then having a shot at the win at Charlotte with two to go, was a tough dose of reality.
“You just try to make the best decision you can,” Elliott said. “Those guys are just going to do the opposite of whatever we do. That’s just a part of it. You make decisions and you live with them. It wasn’t the pit call—I think being on offense is fine.
“Like I said, those guys are going to do whatever’s the opposite of what you do.”
Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell rounded out the top 10. For Bell, the result marked his first top-10 finish since graduating to Cup.
Wednesday night’s winner Denny Hamlin watched the green flag wave from pit road after a piece of ballast fell out of the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota during the warm-up laps. Hamlin joined the field on Lap 8 in 40th-place. He finished 30th.
Polesitter Kurt Busch led the first 54 laps—through the competition caution on Lap 21 and the one-hour, eight-minute rain delay that started 22 circuits later. After track drying and drivers came to pit, Bowman grabbed the lead on Lap 55 with a two-tire stop.
Truex was catching the No. 88 when Clint Bowyer cut a tire and hit the wall in Turn 1. He was running 11th.
“It pretty well sucks,” said Bowyer, who finished 40th. “It knocked the wind out of me there. I mean, we’re 100 laps into a 400-lap race and to be out already, you talk about a helpless feeling. The guys worked really hard on the Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Delvac Ford, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
“We’ll get ready for next Wednesday and we’ll be back at it. I’m gonna go somewhere and take this thing off and find somewhere where I can find a cold beer. I’m outta here.”
Bowman dominated the first two stages. In addition to collecting both stage wins, he led 140 of 200 laps before leading the field down pit road at half-time for a moment of silence to honor the fallen soldiers.
He set sail for the second half of the contest when the race returned to green on Lap 209. As Bowman’s car became increasingly loose, Truex tracked him down. Bowman was passing Joey Gase on Lap 223 when Truex made his move for the lead. Erik Jones passed Bowman for second-place 10 laps later using the second groove to pick up time. Truex held a 2.3-second lead over his teammate before pitting on Lap 256. He cycled back to the point on Lap 263.
Matt Kenseth, who suffered a speeding penalty and was mired in traffic, triggered the fifth caution on Lap 276 when he lost control of the No. 42 Chevy in Turn 2. Truex came to pit road two laps later. Logano stayed on the track and assumed the lead followed by Kevin Harvick and Elliott. Logano held on for the Stage 3 win.
The field pitted on Lap 303. With 97 laps remaining, Matt DiBenedetto gained the point with a two-tire stop. Logano, who lined up second, bobbled on the restart and dropped to seventh—nearly wrecking his teammates in the process. Truex traded the lead with the No. 21 Ford finally securing the point on Lap 312. He held a 2.6-second lead over Johnson when Gase spun off of Turn 4 on Lap 349.
Johnson took the lead off of pit road, but Keselowski, who lined up second, executed a masterful restart and vaulted to the lead. Elliott, who lined up fourth, needed a long-green run and got his wish. He took the lead from Keselowski on Lap 363, but when Byron spun it sealed the No. 9 driver’s fate. Keselowski assumed the lead and held the point for the win.
“I’m really happy for Miller Lite,” said Keselowski, who is also in a contract year. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen with them, if they’re gonna come back on the car or what, but it’s been a great 10-year ride with them and this is their only race of 2020 and we’re in Victory Lane. I know they’re really happy because Miller Lite goes with Memorial Day, but I’m happy for Ford and everybody who just works their butt off at Team Penske.
“We might not have been the fastest car today, but, wow, did we grind this one out. The pit crew at the end, the yellow right before the last had a blazing stop to get us up front and put us in position. All these things just came together and I’m tickled to death. It’s a little overwhelming to be honest.”