COCA-COLA 600 RACE REVIEW
After the day’s dramatic ending to the Indianapolis 500 the question was what could NASCAR do for an encore?
Well Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 provided a thrilling answer to the fireworks that decided the 100th Anniversary running of the 500.
In fact it was nearly identical.
A last lap, last turn pass for the win when disaster struck the leader decided the outcome of both races.
And the unfortunate victims shared sponsorship from the National Guard.
While it was J.R. Hildebrand who suffered the agony of defeat at The Brickyard, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the victim in Charlotte.
Dan Wheldon was the beneficiary in Indy while Kevin Harvick continued to build his reputation as NASCAR’s top closer in the 600.
But even Harvick knew what was at stake for NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver and perhaps the sport itself.
The one sure way NASCAR could have taken the spotlight away from the unbelievable story that unfolded at Indy was to have Earnhardt Jr. in victory lane.
“I feel like complete crap, to tell you the truth,” said Harvick. “Man, when I saw that thing slowing down, I was like, I really want to win the race, but why can't it be on a day when we're running bad or have something going wrong.
“I think everybody sitting up here would say we want the 88 to win and they're so close to winning and both times they had a chance to win. We are going to do what we have to do to win the races, and today it all just worked out strategy-wise that we won the race. But I feel so stinking bad for him, and I know how bad he wants it.”
If you think Harvick feels bad, put yourself in the shoes of the legion of fans that make up Junior Nation.
Or better yet crew chief Steve Letarte, who is looking more and more like the savior Earnhardt needed to resurrect his Sprint Cup career and get things headed in the right direction after nearly three years of frustration.
If you don’t believe that to be true, just listen to Earnhardt himself.
“To be honest, I know there will be disappointment about coming so close tonight but our fans should be real happy about how we are performing and how we are showing up at the race track,” said a surprisingly upbeat Junior given the turn of events Sunday night.
“How competitive we are. We've definitely improved things and we want to keep getting better and better. I think they are pleased with our efforts and pleased with the results so far this year and I'll be the first to admit we need more, but this is going in the right direction. I felt like a true front-runner tonight.”
He was the favorite of many to be the next first-time winner on Sunday after his string of recent runs and win in the Showdown last week at Charlotte. And he came very close to proving those predictions true with a nice performance that ended up in a second place finish among all the last lap madness.
While his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were dealing with possible engine issues (Denny Hamlin) and spinning out (Kyle Busch), Logano turned in a much-needed third place finish. Charlotte’s been a good track for Logano in his Sprint Cup career and he’s beginning to show some of the life that was on display at the end of last season.
Behind Ragan for first time winner picks, Allmendinger brought the storied Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 home to a fifth place finish Sunday night. But it wasn’t easy. Perserverance was the operative word for Allmendinger who stayed at it through a night of challenges to knock down the Top 5 finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The end of his nearly three-year winless drought was in sight until the No. 88 Chevrolet ran out of fuel heading out of turn four to the finish line. Although he held on to finish seventh, it had to feel like a giant punch in the gut to Earnhardt and Junior Nation.
Looked well on his way to following up his controversial week and the speeding penalty heard ‘round the world with his first Sprint Cup Series win at Charlotte. But once the sun went down Busch seemed to lose handling and a pair of spins the second of which included a trip into the wall ended his night.
His new-found Charlotte Motor Speedway misery continued Sunday with a blown engine and a 28th place finish. It didn’t help matters when FOX caught crew chief Chad Knaus using the most colorful language imaginable to describe the turn of events.
(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
“Tell the 99 if I get to his bumper I'm going to turn him sideways like he did to me. That's how we'll race.” – A.J. Allmendinger
"It started shaking, and one second later, it was, 'Boom.'" – Jamie McMurray on his engine failure
"As our season's gone, I can't even tell you what to expect next." – Kurt Busch
"We come here to try to win it, that's all we do." – Steve Letarte
On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I’ll give Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 a five. After the opening act in the Indianapolis 500 set the bar so high on this giant day of racing it was questionable how the 600 could possibly come close to the drama at The Brickyard. But darn if the race didn’t basically mirror “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Lots of drama, a long and grueling afternoon and evening, fuel strategy then wham – fireworks at the end of the night with a last lap pass for the win.
DOWN THE ROAD
For the first time in its eleven-year history Kansas Speedway will host two Sprint Cup Series races this season with next Sunday’s STP 400 the opening act for the track’s pair of NASCAR weekends. Last October’s Chase was proved to be a memorable one with payback and championship implications. It will be interesting to see what the inaugural summer trip to the Heartland will bring.
|More NASCAR coverage|