Ryan Blaney snapped a 59-race winless streak by holding off William Byron in the final laps of the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday, May 29. Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick were the rest of the top five finishers in order.
It’s the first time ever Team Penske has won both the Coca-Cola 600 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.
But What Really Happened?
Sorry Chase Elliott fans. That title just went there.
In NASCAR racing, it’s not only expected, but also celebrated, to retaliate against a driver that rubbed you the wrong way on the racetrack. Really, you could make an argument that this sport was built on it.
But there’s a line you don’t cross, and on Monday, Elliott leaped across it.
It was lap 187 at the end of stage two when Denny Hamlin got tight and ran Elliott into the wall off of turn 4. As FOX Sports analysts Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart said on the live broadcast, it was apparent Hamlin made a mistake and attempted to get out of the gas in time to not clip the No. 9.
But instead of yelling on the radio or vowing revenge on Hamlin for later on, Elliott turned his wheel straight left into the No. 11 and hooked him into the wall.
And here we go again.
The incident got Wallace suspended, and now Hamlin is calling for the same for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
And, well, he has a point.
When NASCAR suspended Wallace, who drives for Hamlin’s race team 23XI Racing, it set a precedence for the rest of the field in that drivers can’t blatantly wreck somebody by hooking them head on into the wall.
Were there differences between Wallace and Elliott’s incidents? Sure, but only minor ones. Eliott may not have traveled as far down the track as Wallace did, and the speed might have been slightly lower.
But no matter who it is, blatantly hooking somebody into a wall at triple-digit speeds is still incredibly dangerous. That’s not racing. That’s trying to hurt someone.
We’ve seen the field become more and more aggressive in the last few years as the younger generation of drivers has taken over faster rides and is winning more races. Heck, they’re winning championships now, too.
And that’s fun. It’s interesting to watch drivers race hard for every position as if it’s for the race win.
But not at the expense of the sport’s integrity.
Wrecking somebody into the wall is not only a dirty move, but it’s downright unsafe. That’s especially the case in the Next Gen car, which has seen multiple drivers have to take a hiatus from the sport as a result of injuries.
There’s also the precedence of previous drivers being suspended. Hamlin already mentioned Wallace, but there are plenty of other examples such as Kyle Busch hooking Ron Hornaday Jr. in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2011.
The punishment for that? You guessed it – suspension from the Cup race that weekend.
Despite Elliott not admitting to it, it was fairly obvious what happened on lap 187, and we’ve seen it often in the last few years of NASCAR racing.
So, should Elliott be suspended for World Wide Technology Raceway next weekend? Sorry Elliott fans, but it’s pretty hard to argue against it.
Who Stood Out?
The story of the day may very well be Elliott and Hamlin, but there’s no doubt there are plenty of eyes on the efforts of Blaney and Team Penske.
It was almost too good to be true for Blaney. The No. 12 Penske driver was putting on a clinic for the rest of the field in the second half of the event. He won stage three of this unique four-stage event, and when it was all said and done, he led a career-high 163 of the 400 laps of the endurance race.
But he had been there before so many times.
When it came to dominating a race, Blaney is perhaps the most snakebitten driver in the field.
During his 59-race winless streak, Blaney had three races where he led over 100 laps. Of course, he didn’t win any of them.
In fact, in his entire Cup career spanning seven full-time seasons, Blaney experienced 11 races where he led over 100 laps.
Before Monday, he didn’t win a single one of them.
For a few laps, it looked like it was going to happen a 12th time too.
Following a late-race caution flag, Blaney joined the field for a round of pit stops for what was the final time. He was leading when he went in, but a mediocre stop mired him back to fifth for the restart with only 50 laps to go.
There it was. That was what was going to ruin this race.
But it didn’t. Not this time.
It only took the No. 12 team 25 laps to regain the lead over Byron, who appeared to be the only car that could challenge the Ford driver for a win late in the event. Despite another restart occurring with 20 laps to go, Blaney held on to win.
It’s arguably the first time in his Cup career that Blaney turned a dominating race into a win. It’s also debatably the first time he didn’t win in dramatic fashion. It’s the first race Blaney won where he didn’t take the lead in the final 10 laps of racing.
To top things off for Blaney, his win grants him a spot in the playoffs later this year, which means no stressful weekend in the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway in August.
Who Fell Flat?
There were some teams that had some awful Mondays. Stewart-Haas Racing, for example, had an awful start to the day having all four cars outside of the top 30 in the first stage. It did however eventually recover to have three cars finish in the top 20.
There was also Larson, who was running fourth with a real shot at winning before he spun around with only 25 laps to go. He finished 30th.
But perhaps no team has had a worse race – in perhaps years – than LEGACY Motor Club had on Monday.
It was one of the few races that seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had announced to run in 2023. It made sense too. After all, he had four wins in the 600-mile race over his storied career alone.
But you wouldn’t have guessed that with the way he – or any of his employee drivers – ran.
Alright, in fairness, it mostly isn’t their fault.
At the conclusion of stage one, Johnson went behind the wall for mechanical reasons. Right next to him was Erik Jones, who was running 11th at the end of the stage. The Michigan native reportedly had debris puncture his radiator and forced him to bring his No. 43 behind the wall.
As if things weren’t bad enough, mere moments later, Noah Gragson followed them to the garage area. He also had a punctured radiator.
For a time, all three cars swept the last three positions in the field – 35th, 36th and 37th. Thankfully, all three cars actually did return to race many laps later.
But that was only so Johnson could clip himself into the wall off of his own teammate Gragson on lap 165. The incident ensured the Hall of Famer’s day was done. Gragson followed him shortly after because of engine issues.
Only Jones finished the race albeit in 32nd, a total of 59 laps down.
Johnson is now three for three in DNFs this season, a far cry from the anticipated return that many NASCAR fans had expected when he made the move back to stock cars at the beginning of the year.
Despite it seeming like the day from hell, it isn’t necessarily much different from the results we’ve seen from the reinvigorated Legacy MC so far this year. Across all three cars, the trio has only two top-10 results. Both of them belong to Jones, who at this point of the season last year had four top-10 finishes and a top five.
Next season, when the team switches to Toyota, seems so far away.
Better Than Last Time?
Look, Charlotte is fun again, OK?
Really, you could argue it’s one of the best races of the year, and it was about on par with what we saw one year ago.
In fact, it was almost identical.
Like 2022, Monday had a total of 31 lead changes over the course of its 400 laps. It also had 16 caution flag periods. That’s only two less than what we saw last year.
Watching drivers use multiple lanes and have to play with the throttle is something we shouldn’t take for granted nowadays. That’s especially the case after the 550-horsepower package.
Really, the only downside is that darn rain postponement, which accounted for one of those 16 caution flags.
Say what you will about the Next Gen car, but it’s proved itself to be fun to watch at the 1.5-mile tracks. Charlotte is no exception.
Paint Scheme of the Race
The Memorial Day weekend again saw a plethora of the Cup Series field bring out their patriotic paint schemes in remembrance of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
It was a sea of the star-spangled banner adorning cars all over the field, which is a great look being done for a great cause. However, like last year, it’s hard to discern one car from the rest if they all have a similar design.
So why not pick one that wasn’t doused in red, white and blue but still honored a fallen warrior?
JTG Daugherty Racing makes some rare appearances on Paint Scheme of the Race, but in 2023 its designs have gotten a huge improvement over the base blue liveries from one year ago.
This is no exception. Unlike the other usual vibrant red, white and blue colors from the rest of the field, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 47 featured a black base with a blue faded star-spangled banner on its door panels – a somber design used as a reminder that Memorial Day is for those we have lost.
It’s a design fitting for the remembrance of the warrior’s name they carried with them on Monday – Sergeant Alessandro Plutino, a U.S. Army Ranger killed in 2011.
The Cup Series heads to the Midwest.
NASCAR returns to World Wide Technology Raceway for the second-ever Cup Series event at the 1.25-mile oval. Qualifying for the 300-mile event will be live on Saturday, June 3 at 10:45 a.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, June 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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