Ryan: Richmond never delivered the cutoff drama that it did the first time

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The final regular-season cutoff race at Richmond Raceway ended just the way most of the previous 13 had gone: A relatively muted finish with less than scintillating action and more than a regrettable mite of self-induced controversy.

The incongruous sight of an ambulance blocking pit entry – and nearly adversely affecting the championship chances of Matt Kenseth — will be the indelible image from Richmond’s finale as the finale for setting the championship field every season since NASCAR reordered its title structure in 2004.

It’s striking in the context of a Cup Series race … but much less so when viewed through the prism of the track whose once cleverly marketed rhyme (“One last race to make the Chase!”) was much more memorable than the racing in its showcase event.

With all due respect to the quaint River City and its many charms, it’ll be easy to say good riddance to Richmond as the gateway to the most important stretch of the season in NASCAR’s premier circuit.

Though the 0.75-mile oval – often described as the short track that races like a superspeedway and has been beloved by drivers since its 1988 reconfiguration by original owner Paul Sawyer – always seemed the perfect location for a regular-season crescendo, it rarely delivered on the promise of punctuating the season’s first 26 races with big moments.

In 14 cutoff races at Richmond, only five drivers raced their way into the playoff field, and only once – the first time when Jeremy Mayfield emphatically snatched the final playoff spot with a stunning victory – was it truly memorable.

The most notable instance in which drivers made the playoffs because of events at Richmond was in 2013 when Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon were added because of penalties to Michael Waltrip Racing for race manipulation and the extraordinary measure of expanding the field in light of tainted radio chatter.

That it had nothing to do with on-track racing and also was one of the most materially damaging chapters in NASCAR history puts it squarely on the through line of forgettable incidents at Richmond.

Whether an ambulance parked in the most obvious of “no unloading” zones, the itch that apparently got scratched with the most suspicious spin in the annals of NASCAR or the fan who thought the top of the Turn 4 catchfence offered a better vantage point than his seat, there is a pattern of infamous episodes that largely overshadowed mostly nondescript racing.

In 2018, the cutoff race will shift to a Sunday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There has been much debate over whether the 2.5-mile track – whose heavy demands on handling and horsepower ensure that typically only powerhouse teams contend up front — will enhance the “drama” that determines the playoff field because it seemingly lessens the chance of a driver carrying his car to victory lane.

But in the absence of virtually any such examples at Richmond since Mayfield, the Brickyard might be the better table-setter for the championship run through the appeal of Indianapolis with prestige substituting for pressure.

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Though NASCAR has employed a traveling medical crew for the first time this season, it’s worth noting Saturday night’s ambulance in question was staffed by local track crew (which apparently disregarded repeated commands) – just as the safety truck was that inexplicably impeded the progress of drivers pitting at Richmond in the April 30 race (and causing a commitment line violation by Martin Truex Jr.).

Between those incidents and the 2014 fence-climber (who caused a caution in addition to drawing criminal charges), that’s a curious run of Richmond staff being involved in some awkward instances that had unfortunate impacts on races.

NASCAR chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell (admirably) alluded to holding the scoring tower accountable for Saturday night’s blunders. But the track obviously bears some of the brunt for the ambulance incident, too, and absolutely should be called to task being in tune with NASCAR officials in the future.

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While it was commendable for O’Donnell to stand up and accept the blame Monday on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, it might have helped to have the message with the same level of candor and contrition Saturday night from NASCAR. Scott Miller deserves credit for taking questions then, but the senior vice president of competition doesn’t hold the necessary clout to speak as authoritatively as O’Donnell or a board-level executive.

It was reminiscent of the debacle at the 2008 Brickyard 400 when competition VP Robin Pemberton was marched in to face a hostile media center immediately after enduring three hours of nonstop triage in the pits, where tires were exploding with unnerving reliability. It predictably didn’t go well, and it wasn’t until two days later when late spokesman Jim Hunter took an extremely contrite stance on SiriusXM that the damage control finally began.

Richmond won’t have the same repercussions as Indianapolis, and O’Donnell struck a stronger message of remorse and transparency even earlier this time, but the lesson is the same. When there are embarrassing images from a significant event on national TV, the sooner the better that someone of great import at NASCAR addresses the matter with clarity, compunction and resolve.

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As it moves back to hosting two annual races under the lights next year and begins a $30 million infield renovation, Richmond still has some big questions to answer about its future. Though Saturday night’s race again proved that racing in sunshine seems to be the preferable alternative for on-track quality, the grandstands noticeably were more crowded than Sunday in April. It’s difficult to quibble with that move.

However, it isn’t unfair to ask questions about the track and its surface, which hasn’t seemed the same since a 2004 repave that came two years after the abandonment of a sealer that previous owner Paul Sawyer used to treat the asphalt since its 1988 opening.

Is it worth returning to a coal tar emulsion or maybe using the newly popular traction compound employed at many tracks this year?

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There were many reasons for Martin Truex Jr. to be angry Saturday night, but some seeds of rage already had been planted nearly a month earlier.

Lest we forget, the Furniture Row Racing driver also wasn’t happy with NASCAR for throwing a caution that cost him the win in the Aug. 13 race at Michigan International Speedway.

With NASCAR debris cautions at a 17-year low through 26 races, it’s understandable why Truex would be even more agitated about feeling disproportionately affected by judgment calls.

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The decision to wait on crowning Truex until Richmond as the regular-season champion – after he already had clinched at Darlington Raceway – seems suspect in retrospect.

Of course, if the yellow hadn’t flown, the timing would have been ideal – punctuating a Richmond win with a celebration of one of the greatest regular seasons in recent memory.

Instead, it was a seething Truex staring blankly (it surely isn’t easy projecting radiance when you just emerged from the care center) while accepting the award from NASCAR president Brent Dewar. After trumpeting the importance of rewarding drivers for the season (which inextricably is linked with the advent of stage racing), this wasn’t the way NASCAR wanted to mark the quasi-historic occasion.

Yes, if the award had been given to Truex a week earlier, the ceremony still would have happened with him reeling after a late crash and a win snatched away. But he also made a media center appearance after the Southern 500 and took every question with grace, so the trophy presentation still would have gone more smoothly (as Truex alluded in the interview with Marty Snider).

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The significance of Saturday night’s 10-point swing isn’t that Truex lost five points (barring a total collapse, the No. 78 Toyota is a lock to reach the third round and nearly a given for the finale). It’s that Larson gained five points by winning the race and moving into second in the playoff standings.

Truex remains the favorite to be among the four championship finalists, but the equation changes if Larson is title eligible at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the 1.5-mile oval that is his favorite on the circuit partly because its high line suits his style so well.

Truex’s chances of racing for a championship weren’t diminished Saturday, but his odds of winning the playoffs were lessened because the chances increased that he will be facing Larson at Miami.

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Redux from last week’s column asking about the line between bending the rules and breaking them to the point of “cheating”: A Twitter follower noted one of the best examples of celebrating the way teams push the boundaries aired earlier this year with the “Refuse to Lose” documentary that marked the 20-year anniversary of Jeff Gordon’s first Daytona 500 win.

In a well-received episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast in March, crew chief Ray Evernham recounted many of those memories and the games that he played with NASCAR inspectors.

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The news that Richard Petty Motorsports could be facing sponsorship woes for the 2018 season, raises questions about how NASCAR might handle its charter system with the current team economic climate (RPM still has two charters, including one that was leased this season).

Brent Dewar, who was named the fourth president in NASCAR history two months ago, was among the architects of the charter system, and he discussed what the future might hold as the guest on the 99th episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

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).