Ryan: Remembering the eight races that Kyle Busch could have won before Pocono

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NASCAR, as with any professional sport, is so often predicated on hyperbole, it sometimes distorts the ability to recognize real greatness.

So let’s appreciate the unrealized virtuosity that is Kyle Busch’s 2017 season.

Martin Truex Jr. has accumulated playoff points at an impressively prodigious rate. Kyle Larson has made innumerable charges through the field.

But Busch truly is about a half-dozen breaks from being 21 races into the greatest season of his career – and among the best of the modern era.

“I don’t think there’s a question in my mind that there literally are eight victories that have slipped our grasp,” Busch told NBC Sports after Sunday’s victory at Pocono Raceway.

This is the rare instance of a driver speaking the truth about lost opportunities rather than blithely exaggerating (“we were the fastest on track until that caution”) about how a race unfolded.

Busch has led one of every five laps he has completed in the No. 18 Toyota this season (second only to Truex’s top-ranked No. 78). Here are eight races that Busch could have won prior to Pocono (ranked in order of how close he was):

        Phoenix, March 19 – Busch led 113 laps until the final caution when he pitted and handed first to Ryan Newman. Busch restarted fifth but could gain only two spots in the final two laps. “It seems like every finish that’s destined for us it seems to end in a worse finish that day,” said Busch, who was mostly upbeat after his first top five of the season.

        Talladega, May 7 — Busch led 39 consecutive laps until the last circuit around the 2.66-mile oval, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got a push on the inside to capture the win. “I just never had enough help from behind and just never got together,” Busch said after finishing third. “We did all we could here today, and it’s all circumstantial on how you win these things. Unfortunately our circumstances didn’t quite go our way.”

        Michigan, June 18 – Busch led 35 straight laps until a debris caution with a scheduled 20 laps remaining set up a restart in which winner Kyle Larson took first. Busch faded to seventh over the final two restarts and didn’t talk to reporters after the race.

        Pocono, June 11 – A case of the best car but the wrong strategy, Busch started from the pole and led 100 laps but lost the lead to winner Ryan Blaney (who was on fresher tires) with nine laps remaining.

       Indianapolis, July 23 – Won the pole position and led a race-high 87 of the first 102 laps. Seemed headed toward a duel with Martin Truex Jr. before they crashed while racing for the lead on a Lap 111 restart. “That’s the way it goes, just chalk it up to another one that we figure out how to lose these things by,” Busch said. “It’s very frustrating and I hate it for my guys.”

        Charlotte, May 28 – Seemingly on the right fuel strategy this time, Busch runs down everyone but Austin Dillon to finish second in the Coca-Cola 600. His resulting frustration after passing victory lane on the way to the media center prompts one of the most memorable news conferences of the season.

        Martinsville, April 2 – Led a race-high 274 laps but finished second in a duel with race winner Brad Keselowski (who led the final 43). The most memorable moment for Busch came at the end of the second stage that he lost because of a battle with Stenhouse. Busch blamed a mediocre set of tires for his late-race fade and also said the Stenhouse move was “disrespectful,” hinting at payback while lamenting the loss of a playoff point. “It’s just like the rest of this year, too,” he said. “We’ve just thrown away points week in and week out.  We’ve just got to somehow get our luck better.  I don’t know what it is that just keeps knocking us back that we don’t have things kind of go our way.”

      New Hampshire, July 16 – Speeding penalties on the final two pit stops (on Lap 238 and 263 of 301) relegated a car that led 95 laps to a 12th-place finish. After winning the race, teammate Denny Hamlin said Busch had the better car, and car owner Joe Gibbs said, “Kyle is going to come roaring back from that. I think he feels like each and every weekend he’s got a chance.”

The above list doesn’t even include Richmond, where Busch was running second before a pit commitment violation with 40 laps remaining, and Dover, where he won the pole and led the first 18 laps before a pit stop mishap damaged his car.

So it isn’t far-fetched to suggest Busch could have 11 victories with 15 races remaining in the season.

Nor is it difficult to process that for Busch … if he can make amends over the rest of 2017.

“If we win the championship and have eight wins, that would kind of suffice for the eight wins that we missed out on earlier in the year,” he said. “But man, if you could only think what if and having 16 wins in this era, I mean, that would be just unprecedented. But obviously we just have to continue to work hard. We can’t count on what’s already been lost.”

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The news of Kurt Busch’s contract option being declined by Stewart-Haas Racing came as a surprise to many, but it’s a case of simple economics and the current landscape of team sponsorship in NASCAR’s premier series. Simply put, it’s a tough time being a winning Cup driver over 30 without a major sponsor attached. This has been evidenced in 2017 with Busch, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne.

Busch’s best option still might be returning to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018 on a restructured deal, but everything seems to hinge on what sponsor Monster Energy decides on its future in NASCAR. If Monster, which has a longstanding relationship with Busch, decides to align with the driver, it’s conceivable he could go elsewhere.

It’s worth noting, though (as NBCSN analyst Jeff Burton said Tuesday on NASCAR America), that this news became public. While it doesn’t necessarily mean there is major friction between driver and team, it does change the dynamics of the negotiations.

From his June 29 comments at Daytona International Speedway, Busch clearly felt he was deserving of at least another season from the team regardless of whether the sponsor situation was settled. Now he will be permitted to test that belief on an open market that has become well aware of his availability.

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The Saturday-Sunday weekend schedule the past two weeks at Indianapolis and Pocono drew mostly rave reviews from teams and drivers pleased by an extra day off the road.

“That’s really what it’s about, it’s about quality of life for the team guys, giving them an extra day,” Kevin Harvick said. “If we can add that up (over) 10, 15, 20 weekends, that’s two or three weeks that you can keep those guys at home and let them spend some time with their families and kids and wives. Everybody is just gone so much, it is becoming harder and harder to hire people because it is such a grind.”

A mostly overlooked new facet of qualifying and racing on the same day (as occurred at Pocono and will again Sunday at Watkins Glen International) is that NASCAR prevented teams from having an engine in their backup cars (a spare engine still was allowed to be brought and kept in the hauler in a typical procedure).

NASCAR is considering this as a cost-savings measure at all tracks next year, helping engine builders reduce their long-term inventories (as their contracts typically call for supplying teams with three engines per weekend). The potential drawback would be the amount of time required to put an engine in a backup car if it becomes needed during the three-hour window between the start of qualifying and the green flag.

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Crew chief Cole Pearn’s decision to pit Martin Truex Jr. from the lead with three laps left in the second stage at Pocono – essentially giving up a playoff point and any second stage points – was the most calculated of gambles.

With 29 playoff points already secured (and another 15 likely coming at the end of the regular season as the points leader), Truex virtually is assured of advancing through at least the first round of the playoffs and probably the second. With that kind of cushion, why play it safe for a stage win if your car is fast enough for an overall victory?

“Five (playoff) points is a lot better than one bonus point,’’ Pearn told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long after the race.

Said Truex: “If we didn’t pit there, we probably weren’t going to have a shot at winning the race. That was the gamble. That was our mindset before the race. We figured if we felt like we were good enough to possibly win the race, we’d have to pit before the end of that second stage.”

This is the equivalent of aiming for the pin instead of laying up with a lead of several strokes in a golf tournament. Or going for it on fourth and 3 instead of settling for a 58-yard field goal or a punt.

It was an aggressive call, but if Truex somehow fails to advance in the playoffs by a margin of less than five points, it will be perfectly sensible in retrospect.

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Could a recent management shake-up at Pocono Raceway hint at larger changes ahead for the track and possibly NASCAR’s premier series schedule?

In a revealing interview with the Associated Press’ Dan Gelston last weekend, new CEO Nick Igdalsky seemed to volunteer that playing host to two annual Cup races wasn’t a long-term certainty (while making the case for potentially moving a date to the road course).

“We’d love to continue having two” Cup races, he said. “But if one day, if that’s not the way the cards fall, so be it. We’d still be honored to be part of the show.”

Such an admission would have been anathema for Igaldsky’s grandfather, Joe Mattioli, who built the 2.5-mile track in 1971. Pocono held its first Cup race three years later and has had two annual races on the premier circuit since 1982, in part because of its founder’s oft bellicose defense of twin 500-mile races.

Mattioli died in January 2012, a few months after turning over day-to-day operations to his grandchildren. Brandon Igdalsky, Nick’s older brother, had been the track’s president and CEO for several years, overseeing multimillion-dollar renovations and the reduction of Pocono’s races to 400 miles apiece.

Brandon Igdalsky took a new job last month in NASCAR’s event marketing and promotion department (working primarily with tracks), handing the reins to his sibling and new track president Ben May.

Nick Igdalsky clarified his comments Monday to Gelston, saying he’d be willing to have a second race on a road course (a la Charlotte Motor Speedway) if that’s what it took to run two races.

But that this topic even was broached naturally raises some eyebrows about what’s next, particularly given the family owned track’s new relationship to NASCAR management.

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Add “driver participation guidelines” (as described in a NASCAR release Tuesday) to “encumbered” as the latest in the scourge of NASCAR euphemisms that undermine honest discussion and explanation.

These aren’t “guidelines”, which (by definition) aren’t mandatory.

They are rules.

If they were actual guidelines, Kyle Busch might enter every truck and Xfinity race next season just for spite.

“New rules for entering national series” works better.

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One of the goals of NASCAR’s new rules for entering national series is to help increase exposure and opportunity for younger drivers, which also is a goal of the NASCAR Next program.

Though more drivers fail than succeed in reaching the top level (15 of 46 NASCAR Next drivers have made a Cup start), there have been many recent successes for the initiative, which is designed to put marketing and promotion behind future stars.

Recently named No. 88 driver Alex Bowman is a NASCAR Next alum, as are the top two finishers (Ryan Preece and Kyle Benjamin) in last Saturday’s Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway, and Gary Klutt will make his Monster Energy Cup Series debut this weekend at Watkins Glen.

Other graduates of NASCAR Next: Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Darrell Wallace Jr., William Byron, John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer, Corey LaJoie, Ben Rhodes and Matt DiBenedetto.

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Target’s decision to leave Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2017 season exemplifies the retrenchment of retail sponsorship in auto racing that stems from a confluence of reasons (many of which were well documented in this analysis by Yahoo! Sports’ Nick Bromberg).

The Great Recession triggered a new era of companies becoming much more discriminating about how marketing dollars are spent, and the rise of social media in the intervening years has altered philosophies on what are the most cost-effective strategies for reaching consumers.

“The traditional model (of just) being a consumer brand sponsor that just wants to see a car out there with their name out it will go extinct in the next couple years,” Brad Keselowski said last weekend at Pocono. “That’s not always a bad thing. There’s other models that work and have proven to be successful.

“And the teams, although the owners may not agree with it, are still relatively healthy. So, time will tell what the true model is 10 years from now. I don’t think anybody really knows. I don’t we have it as bad as we say we do.”

The most effective sponsorship model guarantees a return for the millions being invested via business-to-business relationships, e.g. ShellPennzoil agrees to sponsor Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford in return for Roger Penske’s automotive dealerships using its motor oil.

The problem is that most teams can’t offer the ancillary businesses (and global breadth) of Penske.

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Busch’s win at Pocono marked the 10th consecutive race with a different winner in the Cup Series. This comes on the heels of eight races in a row being won by different teams (the longest stretch since a 10-race run in 2001-02).

While Truex’s massive lead in playoff points makes him the championship favorite, this season still feels as wide open as any in recent memory.

It’s driven by the fact that every manufacturer has at least one bona fide title contender on more than one team — Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing (Kevin Harvick) and Team Penske (Brad Keselowski); Toyota, Furniture Row Racing (Truex) and Joe Gibbs Racing (Busch); Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports (Jimmie Johnson) and Chip Ganassi Racing (Kyle Larson).

Chase Elliott suffers another frustrating finish

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Heartbreak rode with Chase Elliott again.

Four nights after his bid to win at Darlington ended when Kyle Busch’s contact wrecked him, a pit decision took away Elliott’s chance to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“This week has been pretty unfortunate,” Elliott said after finishing second to winner Brad Keselowski. Elliott crossed the finish line third but teammate Jimmie Johnson’s car was disqualified after failing post-race tech inspection, moving Elliott up a spot.

Just around midnight, a caution came out for teammate William Byron’s spin with Elliott leading. That caution sent the race into overtime.

Then the decision for each team was if to pit.

Joey Logano showed a driver could stay out on older tires Sunday night and hold the lead. He won Stage 3 by keeping the lead for 19 laps after a restart despite having older tires than most of the field. Elliott tried to do the same thing then but had a poor restart. He was third on the restart and finished the stage 18th.

Giving up the lead has proved costly this year. Ryan Blaney led before a caution sent the race into overtime at Las Vegas. He pitted. Logano did not, assumed the lead and won. Blaney finished 11th.

The dilemma facing Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson was stay out and keep the lead while many in the field likely would pit for tires, or pit and try to come through the field.

“You just make the best decision you can based on information you have,” Elliott said. “People behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. That was the situation we were put in. Alan made a decision and we stuck with it and it didn’t work out.”

Gustafson called Elliott to pit road. Eight cars stayed out. Elliott was the third car off pit road with four tires, putting him 11th on the restart.

After the race, Busch consoled Elliott.

“He just felt bad for us,” Elliott said when asked about what Busch told him.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson says Elliott will be able to bounce back from his difficult week.

“He’s been through some tough ones already,” Johnson said. “He does a nice job of getting away and letting the frustrating things that happen roll off his shoulders. He is a younger guy, but he is an old soul.

“He’s been around racing his whole life. He’s watched his dad go through stuff. He’s lived and experienced a lot on his own right. He’ll just come back more motivated and hungry. Alan Gustafson is about as good as they get in the garage area. With Alan’s leadership, they’ll dust themselves off and be back on Wednesday (for the 500-kilometer race at Charlotte) and be ready to roll.”

That’s all he can do.

“There really is no other option,” Elliott said. “I can’t rewind time.”

 

What drivers said after the Coca-Cola 600

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Brad Keselowski – Winner: “I’m tickled to death. One (major) left, the Daytona 500.  It’s been a great 10-year career I’ve had so far and I hate it took me 10 years to get this one.  I feel like I’ve had cars and a team good enough to do it many times over and it just slipped through our hands and today it didn’t.  I’m just really proud of everyone and persistence pays off.”

(Did you question decision not to pit?)  “No, we’ve lost too many races that way and I knew we had to take the chance.  If it didn’t work out, I knew it was the right call.”

(Why did you restart on the inside?) “I think first off I felt confident that if I took the bottom with (Ryan) Blaney up there that he would have an opportunity to take it three‑wide, slow that lane down.  If you take the outside, you risk that happening to you.  I didn’t want that to happen. It’s a little bit like a game of blackjack where you count cards there.  You’re thinking to yourself, when Chase (Elliott) pulled off, I think we made the right move.  How many cars stayed out behind us?  I think I heard it was like six or seven that stayed out behind us.  I knew it would be really hard for him to pass all those cars in two laps.”

Chase Elliott – finished second: “You just make the best decision you can based on the information you have.  When you are leading the race like that, people behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. That was the situation we were put in.  (Crew chief) Al (Gustafson) made the decision, we stuck with it, and it didn’t work out.

(Would this be the toughest stretch you’ve had in your career, these couple races?) “Yeah, this week’s been pretty unfortunate.  We’ve had some tough losses in my career, for however many years I’ve been doing this, five, six years, unfortunately.  It is what it is.”

Ryan Blaney – finished third: “We started towards the back and gained a lot of spots in the beginning, but we got boxed in on the first stop and lost all those spots we gained. I had to pass a bunch of cars tonight.  I think we got that award.  I thought we were in a good spot on the restart with 45 or 48 (laps) to go and somebody got loose on the bottom into (Turn) 3 and we had to go all the way up to the wall to miss him in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4  We lost a lot of spots right there and that really hurt us.  That lost us all the track position we gained towards the end.  I was feeling really good about it.  We restarted sixth or maybe even eighth on the top and I thought we were gonna roll, but that dropped us back to maybe 12th and we had to fight back from there.  I thought our car was pretty competitive, probably not the best car out there, but definitely a top-five car all night.  It was a good call to stay out there at the end, I thought.  We restarted fourth and gave us a chance.  We would have come home with a decent day, but we passed a lot of cars and definitely had a long night working on it.”

Kyle Busch – finished fourth: “During the middle stages of the race, I thought we were really fast. I feel like we had a great M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Camry and ran up front and got back up front from having to go to the back. But we put tires on it and it was never the same after that from about lap 280 or 290 when we put tires on it and it wasn’t the same as it was before that. We were lucky to steal a fifth-place finish out of it today and we’ll have to go back to work and figure out some things to make our stuff better for when we come back on Wednesday and get back after it.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished sixth: “It was a long and typical 600. You battle the car all night long and you just keep making adjustments and trying to stay up with the race track. The Bass Pro Toyota was really strong when we started off and I was able to pick off a few spots and work our way towards the front. I really rode there behind the 88 (Alex Bowman) for the first two stages. I felt like at times we were stronger than he was and just couldn’t make the move. Track position was crazy important tonight with the cooler temperatures and everybody having a year under their belts now with this car.

“Everybody is getting so close and they changed the tire and it was way different. It just felt really hard and had really low grip and it was really bouncy. We tried to keep up with the track, and at times, I felt like we were the best car. When we could get the lead, we could pull away. We had the lead late there in the last stage – early in the last part of the last stage and just had some trouble in the pits. It seems like every week we’re having a little bit of hiccups here and there and it set us back. The guys are working hard trying to get better.”

Kurt Busch – finished seventh: “We got the pole with the GEARWRENCH Chevy and led some laps; it was great to be up front and had good pace early. After the rain delay we just got buried in some dirty-air back in traffic. We just got to get our car a little better to maneuver in traffic. We just need the front tires front aero to be a little better in dirty-air. I know (crew chief) Matt McCall my guys are going to work on it; I’m gonna work on it, but a top 10 after all that, I will take it.”

Tyler Reddick – finished eighth: 

Christopher Bell – finished ninth: “I think we are headed in the right direction. We have to obviously keep making gains – getting a little bit faster, me doing a better job. We’re gaining on it. We are creeping up on it. I think we snuck a little bit of a better finish out than what we probably deserved, but we will take it after the first couple weeks.”

Cole Custer – finished 12th: ”Man, definitely a persevering night for the HaasTooling.com Mustang. I could’ve done better at the start of the race. We definitely got the car better throughout the race. We fought hard all night. We fought hard to stay on the lead lap and got our lap back that one time. To finish 13th in my first 600 that I’ve run was definitely pretty cool. I got a good restart at the end. We have some things we know we can do better when we come Wednesday. I can do some things better. I’m looking forward to it. We’re moving in the right direction with this package. We just have to keep grinding through it.”

Joey Logano – finished 13th:

Austin Dillon – finished 14th: “I feel really good, overall, physically, so that’s a good thing. We ran in the top 10 all night. We had a really solid car. We showed sometimes when we were up front in the top five, we ran some of the fastest laps of the race at times. Bummed when you go all night long running like that and give it away at the end. Our call was if a couple pitted, we were going to stay out. I actually said if all of them stay out, I’m pitting. Not all of them stayed out; I thought more would stay out. Probably should have came and got two tires. The 18 (Kyle Busch) was running one position in front of us, came and got two, and ended up fifth. You never know – my teammate Reddick had the outside and ended up being able to maintain and run ninth. We were too tight at the end and I kind of drove the wheels off of it, and the caution came out. Just a little over-confident, I wanted to get another good finish.”

Aric Almirola – finished 15th: “From the start of the day to the end of the day it was just a tough day. I was loose on the qualifying lap and spun, but was able to keep car from having much damage. We started in the rear and, on the pace laps, debris came out of the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) car and damaged some of the splitter, so we had to make some repairs there later on. We battled both ends of the balance with the car all four stages and started to ease our way to the top 10 at the end before that final caution came out – then the restart didn’t go my way. The Coke 600 is such a long race and so much can happen. I’m proud we battled back up there, but didn’t get the finish we wanted.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 16th: “It was kind of an up and down day, but overall, we had a good run in our No. 38 YANMAR Ford Mustang. We started off the night pretty free. Once we re-fired after the rain delay, we had a pretty tight race car for most of the night. (Crew chief) Seth (Barbour) and the crew kept trying different adjustments to get our handling better and we managed to run in the top 20 for most of the last stage. We never gave up and got some good notes to come back on Wednesday.”

Michael McDowell — finished 18th: “Our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang had a tough time getting over the bumps in Turns 3 and 4 to start today’s Coca-Cola 600 … my guys on pit road did a good job of making adjustments all race long to get us more competitive. Thankfully, we caught a lucky caution with two laps to go and were able to get back on the lead lap.”

Alex Bowman – finished 19th: “That finish does not show how great of a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE we had today in Charlotte. We won two stages, led over 160 laps and really had a solid car. We would get loose or tight in certain areas, but (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys made some good adjustments on pit road. At the end there, it just went straight. Not much I could do with that and unfortunately don’t have a finish to show how strong we were today. We learned a lot and hopefully can come back strong on Wednesday.”

William Byron – finished 20th:

Ty Dillon – finished 25th: “First and foremost, the Coca-Cola 600 is about so much more than ourselves and it was an honor to have SPC Richard C. Emmons III on our car. While we missed having his family at the track with us, hopefully we were able to honor them the best we could. Tonight wasn’t what we were looking for. The balance of our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 1LE was pretty good, but unfortunately, we had to make an unscheduled pit stop under green in Stage 1 and never were able to recover. We usually don’t see a lot of cautions at Charlotte and that trend proved to be the same again. Just couldn’t dig ourselves out of the hole. It’s a shame, because I thought we were going to have a good night after a solid qualifying effort. The positive is we do have a good baseline setup for Wednesday night and we will try to have a better result then.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 28th:

Bubba Wallace – finished 38th: “Well, what a bummer. Tonight wasn’t our night. We burned-up a hub, and it put us way behind. I don’t know if we had other issues going on with the car or what, but it wasn’t worth the risk. I thought we had a really good car, especially before all this stuff happened. We were running some really good lap times, so I was excited to try and get some track position and go race with our Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 U.S. Air Force Camaro ZL1 1LE. But sometimes you’re the bat and sometimes you’re the ball; tonight we were the ball.

Clint Bowyer – finished 39th: “It pretty well sucks.  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 (mask) off and find somewhere where I can find a cold beer.  I’m outta here.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 40th (disqualified): “When that pit stop happened at the end, it’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is. We were talking about it too maybe for ourselves, but (crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) had a great sense of the right call to make. I feel for Chase (Elliott). He had such a great car on Wednesday, and to be leading here and have the caution come out with a couple to go, I feel bad for him. But I’m very proud of my team, very proud of everybody on this Ally Chevrolet. Second is OK – I’m very proud of the effort we’re putting in. But second, stinks. It’s tough being this close to victory lane, but we’re knocking on the door and we’ll get there.”

Results, point standings after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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Brad Keselowski held off Jimmie Johnson in the final two laps to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Keselowski earned his first win of 2020. The race went five laps into overtime past the scheduled 400 laps. But Johnson’s runner-up finish was short-lived. He was disqualified after his car failed post-race inspection.

Had that not happened, it would have been Johnson’s first runner-up finish in the 102-race winless streak that dates back to his most recent win, June 4, 2017 at Dover.

MORE: Brad Keselowski wins Coca-Cola 600; Jimmie Johnson disqualified.

MORE: NASCAR disqualifies Jimmie Johnson’s car after it fails inspection

MORE: Chase Elliott suffers another frustrating finish

MORE: What drivers said after Coca-Cola 600

Chase Elliott appeared headed to the win when a late caution from teammate William Byron sent NASCAR’s longest race into overtime. Elliott pitted for four tires before the final restart but could not catch Keselowski or Johnson.

Elliott finished second after Johnson’s DQ, followed by Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

Sixth through 10 were Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Chris Buescher.

Click here for results

Kevin Harvick remains atop the point standings heading into Wednesday night’s return to Charlotte for the 500 kilometer race there.

Click here for updated standings

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Brad Keselowski wins Coca-Cola 600 in overtime; Jimmie Johnson disqualified

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Brad Keselowski won the Coca-Cola 600 in an overtime finish, beating Chase Elliott to score his first win in NASCAR’s longest race.

Keselowski took the checkered flag just after midnight on Memorial Day to end a 30-race winless streak.

Elliott’s finishing order was improved after the car of Jimmie Johnson, who originally finished second, failed post-race inspection and was disqualified. The car failed rear-end alignment in the OSS station.

The top five was Keselowski, Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

Elliott, who took the lead from Keselowski with 38 laps to go, was leading with three laps to go in the scheduled 400-lap distance when the caution came out for a William Byron spin, a result of a cut left-rear tire.

Elliott was then among a group of drivers, including Martin Truex Jr., who pitted under the caution. That gave Keselowski the lead on the restart with Johnson second. Elliott restarted 11th.

“I feel like I’ve thrown this race away a handful of times,” Keselowski told Fox. “I thought we were going to 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. That leaves one major for me, the Daytona 500. We’re checking them off.”

Keselowski’s win is the first by a Ford in the Coke 600 since 2002. It also comes after Keselowski started the race from the rear due to an unapproved adjustment to his car after qualifying.

For Elliott, it’s the second disappointing finish in four days after he wrecked from contact with Kyle Busch late in Wednesday’s race at Darlington while running second.

Of the fallout on the decision to pit under the final caution, Elliott told Fox “those guys are going to do the opposite of whatever we do. That’s just part of it. You make decisions and live with them. It wasn’t the pit call. I think being on offense is fine.”

The race was stopped for rain in the middle of Stage 1. The delay lasted 1 hour and 9 minutes.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Alex Bowman

STAGE 2 WINNER:  Alex Bowman

STAGE 3 WINNER: Joey Logano won it after he and two other drivers stayed out of the pits during a late caution.

More: Race results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Blaney’s third-place finish is his first finish better than 13th in six Coke 600 starts … Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth after leading 87 laps. It’s his third straight top 10 after not having any in the first four races of the season … Kevin Harvick has placed in the top 10 in all seven races this year … Rookies Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell finished eighth and ninth respectively in their first starts in the Coke 600.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Denny Hamlin‘s chances to win were dashed before the green flag. A piece of ballast fell off his car during the pace laps and he was forced to have it repaired on pit road before he could start the race. He joined the race eight laps down and finished 29th … Clint Bowyer finished 39th after a lower control arm on his car broke, causing him to hit the Turn 2 wall with four laps left in the first stage. He was the first car out of the race. … Bubba Wallace placed 38th after he fell out due to mechanical problems … Ryan Newman finished 27th after suffering battery issues .. Matt Kenseth finished 26th after he had an early speeding penalty and then got into the wall on Lap 276.

NOTABLE: With its overtime finish, the race was 607.6 miles, the longest Cup race ever in mileage … With the top-20 finishers from the Coke 600 being inverted to determine the starting lineup for Wednesday’s Cup race at Charlotte, William Byron will start first and Alex Bowman will start second.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Cup Series returns to Charlotte Wednesday night for a 500-kilometer race (8 p.m. ET on FS1).