CONCORD, N.C. -- Ryan Blaney earned the biggest win of his career with a victory in Monday's Coca-Cola 600, giving the third-generation star his first win of 2023 and his first win in one of NASCAR's crown jewel races. Blaney's win is the eighth of his career, and it ends a 59-race winless streak that had extended back to his last win at Daytona in August of 2021.
Blaney's victory is a significant one for both him and car owner Roger Penske, as it marks the first time that Team Penske has ever won the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same year. Blaney's Coke 600 victory comes one day after Josef Newgarden won the Indy 500 driving for Team Penske.
Coca-Cola 600 unofficial results
- #12 - Ryan Blaney
- #24 - William Byron
- #19 - Martin Truex Jr.
- #23 - Bubba Wallace
- #45 - Tyler Reddick
- #8 - Kyle Busch
- #47 - Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- #17 - Chris Buescher
- #3 - Austin Dillon
- #38 - Zane Smith
In a long race made even longer by 16 caution flags and a mid-race red flag for rain, Blaney would establish himself as the driver to beat by leading seven times for 163 laps, many of which came in the second half of the 400-lap event. Blaney seized control of the race for good on a restart with 26 laps to go, taking the lead from William Byron as the caution came out for a four-car crash involving Kyle Larson and other frontrunners.
Blaney's victory was an emotional one in addition to a popular one, as the third-generation racer claimed his first victory in a race that he attended many times growing up as the son of longtime Cup Series driver Dave Blaney. Blaney also replicated his company teammate Josef Newgarden's Indy 500 celebration, running into the grandstands to celebrate his win with the fans.
"I might shed a tear. Man, this has been a cool weekend," Blaney told Fox Sports. "Obviously Memorial Day weekend means a lot, growing up here watching Dad run this race for a long time. And it was so cool to just be a part of it, let alone win it. I was able to get the lead on the restart, and then just kind of -- our car was so good that I could kind of bide my time a little bit and we were gonna drive off.
"I was hoping no caution, just because you never know. I knew we had the car to do it, but restarts can be crazy ... You start to feel like you can't win anymore when you don't win in awhile. It can kind of get hard. So just super thankful to the 12 guys for believing in me."
Long race, short tempers
Call it the result of stir-craziness from a weekend that saw all on-track activity scheduled for Saturday and Sunday get rained out, or whatever else you will. But for NASCAR's longest race, there were a pair of incidents that brought out the worst in prominent drivers' temperaments, particularly in the case of the sport's Most Popular Driver.
On lap 185, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin were racing for sixth coming off of turn four when Hamlin slid up the track and into Elliott, putting the No. 9 Chevrolet into the outside wall. Elliott then -- seemingly in retaliation -- hooked a left into Hamlin's right rear fender, sending Hamlin head-on and hard into the outside wall before spinning in oncoming traffic.
Hamlin, one of NASCAR's most outspoken personalities, was furious. In a terse interview with Fox Sports, Hamlin directly called for Elliott to be suspended, comparing the incident to Bubba Wallace's intentional wreck of Kyle Larson that earned him a one-week suspension last fall, and later posted SMT data on Twitter suggesting that Elliott had hooked a left into him on purpose.
"It's a tantrum, and he shouldn't be racing next week," Hamlin said. "Right rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. I don't care, it's the same thing that Bubba Wallace did with Kyle Larson. The exact same. He shouldn't be racing. It's a tantrum."
When pressed on whether or not he had spun Hamlin intentionally, Elliott denied the accusation by claiming that his car would not steer properly after hitting the wall.
"Once you hit the wall in these things, you can't drive them anymore," Elliott said. "Unfortunately not, no. Just an unfortunate circumstance."
While his name was invoked by his car owner, Wallace was also involved in a separate testy exchange. After a hotly contested battle for position with Aric Almirola prior to the red flag for rain, Wallace and Almirola were spotted having a non-cordial conversation that resulted in Almirola shoving Wallace. The incident was spotted by race fan Sarah Davis, and the video was subsequently picked up on by media.
Wallace would go on to finish fourth after a late rally from issues on pit road, while Almirola claimed after a 16th place finish that he had shoved Wallace after the driver of the No. 23 Toyota had cussed him out.
"I felt like I was running him pretty clean, and I felt like he was racing me really dirty. I let him go, and then he shot me the bird," Almirola told PRN. "So I just went to go ask him why he shot me the bird, and he started mouthing off and cussing at me. And I just told him I wasn't gonna have that."
Wallace offered little on what transpired during a post-race scrum with reporters, only saying he was not surprised that Almirola -- who usually projects a gentlemanly, family man image -- had shoved him.
"When you walk around with two faces, that's what you get," Wallace said.
Back in 1987, the exit of turn four at Charlotte Motor Speedway became the site of one of Dale Earnhardt's greatest moments of individual driving, as The Intimidator held the lead in the 1987 Winston despite getting turned into the infield by Bill Elliott. It became known as "The Pass in the Grass" and became a significant part of Earnhardt's lore, even though Earnhardt passed no one.
The infield grass at Charlotte is now the same synthetic surface you'd find on a football field, but Tyler Reddick ended up going for a very similar excursion. Running second and trying to catch Blaney for the lead, Reddick's car lurched sideways on the exit of turn four, sending him driving through the infield turf as he caught and saved his car from spinning.
Reddick would eventually finish fifth just ahead of Kyle Busch, who put his own driving abilities on display after a lap 176 spin on the backstretch. After his car settled facing in the wrong direction, Busch proceeded to put his car in reverse and drive backwards into turns three and four, finally spinning it around before coming to pit road.
For longtime race fans, it was a highlight straight out of the climatic final race in the movie Days of Thunder, where Cole Trickle drove backwards to pit road after being spun in the Daytona 500 -- a scene that was actually based on a real life incident involving Tim Richmond at Pocono in 1986.
Race results rundown
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. followed up his win in the Daytona 500 with another exceptional run in a crown jewel race, starting 10th and staying in the top 10 for much of the night on his way to finishing seventh. It marks Stenhouse's fifth top 10 of the 2023 season, matching his season total from all of 2022.
- In his fifth start as part of a limited schedule of Cup races, Craftsman Truck Seires champion Zane Smith fared extremely well in his first Coke 600. Smith drove up into the top 15 by late in the race, led three laps by staying out on a late restart, and came across the finish line in 10th for his first Cup top 10 in just his fifth start.
- Despite a momentary late-race scare, Kaulig Racing would put both of their cars in the top 15 by the finish. A.J. Allmendinger would recover from an accident on a late restart to finish 14th, just ahead of Justin Haley in 15th.
- Journeyman driver J.J. Yeley's relative hot streak continues, as he enjoyed a very solid night that saw him take home a 16th place finish. That marks Yeley's third top 20 finish in his last six starts dating back to Bristol in April.
- Ross Chastain finally avoided a weekend where he angered another driver, but it came at a cost: Chastain was never truly a factor on his way to a 22nd place finish, just ahead of Trackhouse Racing teammate Daniel Suarez who finished 23rd.
- However poorly Trackhouse's Coke 600 went, Legacy Motor Club's was even worse. All three of their cars went to the garage area, and team co-owner Jimmie Johnson was involved in two separate accidents before dropping out after 115 laps and finishing 37th. The seven-time Cup champion has now failed to finish all three Cup races he's entered this season.
After a three week series of races in the Carolinas, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Gateway to the west and World Wide Technology Raceway in St. Louis for the Enjoy Illinois 300 next Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1.