Race Weekend Central

Coca-Cola 600 Ending Surprises Everyone, Even the Winners

CONCORD, N.C. — The 2024 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday (May 26) won’t be remembered for its last-lap pass for the win like the Indianapolis 500 earlier that day. The white flag never flew. It won’t be remembered for any on-track scuffle. The one disagreement led to a civil conversation on pit road at the start of a weather delay. And it won’t be remembered for Kyle Larson completing the Double. He didn’t run a single lap in his NASCAR Cup Series racecar.

Instead, the ending surprised everyone, including yours truly as well as many in the media center.

See also
Christopher Bell Wins Rain Shortened Coca-Cola 600

After about two hours of waiting from when the lightning hold was initially displayed, the rain storm passed, the wind was gone and the Air Titans were deployed.

Yet about a half an hour later, NASCAR announced it was ending the race, 151 laps shy of its scheduled distance.

Media members, fans and even the winners — Christopher Bell and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team — were stunned.

“I would say certainly it ramped up, and you could just feel the pressure and the intensity and the importance of that restart, the laps that were going on in that moment,” Bell said in his winners press conference. “The range of emotions that I went through from the time that we get out of the car, the lightning strikes, because we got out of the car without any rain.

“Then the lightning strikes hit, and we’re like, okay, we’re going to get right back in, and then the rain came and it’s pouring down rain, and we thought for sure they were going to call the race. Whenever they didn’t call the race and the rain stopped, we thought there was no way they were going to call the race now and we’re going to get back after it.

“I never in a million years thought that I was going to be winning that race on a rain-shortened event after they didn’t call it whenever the rain stopped. I thought for sure we’d be completing the event.”

When Bell emerged from his No. 20 Toyota, fans booed him, upset with the race ending. While he acknowledged their displeasure, he didn’t luck into the victory. Quite the contrary; he led a race-high 90 laps, including a win in stage 2.

“The fans probably aren’t going to say so, and that’s fine,” Bell said. “I say it every time that I win races, out of my eight wins, I’ve said it time and time again, that it’s not good enough and we’re here for more. That’s fine. I won a rain shortened Coca-Cola 600, but that’s not going to be my last win. I can promise you that. Gotta keep it going and got to win more to make it happen.”

Everyone knew inclement weather was headed to CMS. Add in a two-hour wait from when he climbed out of his racecar to when he went to victory lane and Bell experienced a wide spectrum of emotions.

“Yeah, it was wild for sure,” he noted. “Whenever the rain started, I thought for sure that they would cancel it because it was pushing 10:00 at night, we were going to have to dry the track and then we still had two more hours of racing left. So I thought for sure that we had won the race then. Then whenever they didn’t call it by the time the rain had stopped, I didn’t think there was anyway they were going to call the race. I was back in the motor home trying to take a nap because I knew it was going to be a long night, and it probably still is going to be a long night but under different circumstances.”

Team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Adam Stevens happily accepted the spoils of victory but both thought the race would resume.

“To answer your question, honestly, yes, I was surprised,” Stevens said. “We saw the radar looking like it was going to clear up, and it did. They started the Air Titans, and at the point that that happened, I resigned myself that we were going to go back racing. Trying to think — talk to Bell and figure out what adjustments we were going to need for a green racetrack, and making sure everybody had their ducks in a row, the radio is charged and a plan to get a pit stall dry, all the boxes you have to check.

“Then when we were starting to hear the rumblings that maybe they were going to call it after all that, I wasn’t expecting that, either. It’s kind of a bit of a swing of emotions there, but you know, it was one you have to be prepared for, I guess.”

“I think, too, for me, I was in the motor home, and I was told that they’re going to call the drivers in 15 minutes, so I got my jacket on, I was going out the door,” Gibbs said. “But you’re never quite sure, too. I’d be willing to bet on the part of the track there was either weeping and a lot of things — that was a heavy rain, and I’d be willing to bet they reached the conclusion they weren’t going to be able to get it dry.

“Also the other thing is lightning. Anyway, I didn’t know what all took place, but we were thrilled to go to the winner’s circle, I’ll put it that way.”

Meanwhile, fans were left irate with many voicing their concerns on social media.

Indeed, while resuming the race would’ve resulted in a late night, Monday is Memorial Day, the race was in the NASCAR mecca of Charlotte and there was the two-hour delay between the red flag and the official end.

The stunned reactions, both at the racetrack and for viewers at home, speak volumes about it.

Whether Larson would’ve driven his No. 5 Chevrolet back up to the front, whether Brad Keselowski would’ve taken the lead on a long run and more storylines from the mile-and-a-half, a type of racetrack where the Next Gen shines, will never be answered.

The decision felt like it wiped away the growing momentum and recognition in the sport. Photo finishes at Kansas Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and the viral punch from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to Kyle Busch are not on the fanbase’s mind tonight … unless perhaps you’re a fan of Bell.

Otherwise, the mixture of disbelief, frustration and anger left a sour taste in the folks’ mouthes on what was supposed to be a memorable day in motorsports.

About the author

Frontstretch.com
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Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.

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Steve

I recorded the race and kind of skipped through a bunch of it including the delay’s but I could have sworn, when FOX came back after alternate programming that they showed a video of downpours, leading you to believe that it started raining again, them losing the track and the reason for them calling it. I guess I misinterpreted, because until I read these articles, I thought that was exactly the reason for calling the race. If they just about had the track dried and still cancelled it, that is not a good look for Nascar at all.

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