NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kyle Busch Crushes Coca-Cola 600

Who’s in the headline

Kyle Busch came into the 59th Coca-Cola 600 with a points win on every active Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series track except Charlotte Motor Speedway. Not only did he check the box next to Charlotte, he also did it in truly dominating fashion. In the only four-stage race on the Cup schedule, Busch won them all. He scored maximum points in the race that pays the most, dominating the race with 377 laps led and winning by nearly four seconds. It’s the second time in three years a driver (Martin Truex Jr., 2016) has led over 370 laps at Charlotte.

It is Busch’s 47th career win and fourth MENCS triumph of 2018.

What happened

While Busch won the pole Thursday night, it was Joey Logano who snagged the lead at the drop of the green and led the first four laps. Busch took the lead on lap five and led the next 81 laps before pitting under caution when Kevin Harvick blew a tire in Turn 4. Brad Keselowski led for two laps after missing his pit box under caution before Busch regained the lead on the restart.

From there, Busch led another 71 consecutive laps before pit strategy came into play. Denny Hamlin led for seven laps before Logano led for eight. But after Logano pitted, Busch assumed the lead again and truly dominated the remainder of the race.

Busch led 179 consecutive laps, including the finishes of stages two and three. During final green-flag stops, Hamlin led for just two more laps before Busch assumed the lead for good on lap 354. At one point during the final stage, everyone from third on back fell behind the leader’s pace by over 13 seconds. Just nine cars finished on the lead lap after the final 100-lap green-flag stretch.

There were just nine lead changes among four drivers. And while the caution flew 11 times for 54 laps, there were no incident during the fourth 100-lap stage.

Why you should care

Tonight was Busch’s time to shine. Sunday night (May 27) was the icing on the cake of a career that now has wins at all 23 NASCAR tracks on the schedule. Newly minted NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon, armed with 93 career victories, never achieved that, and neither has Jimmie Johnson.

But Busch’s win isn’t the only storyline. The fact Chevrolet put four cars in the top 10 may be overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Chevrolet has struggled this season outside of Kyle Larson. Sunday night, not only did Larson manage a top 10 even with a spin, but Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Alex Bowman joined him there.

What your friends are talking about

Dr. Jerry Punch, longtime NASCAR announcer, received the Bob Russo Founders Award this week. The award honors individuals who have demonstrated profound interest, tireless efforts and undying dedication to auto racing as exemplified by Russo throughout his lifelong career. Punch received the award from Paul Page, the Russo Award chairman, who was also honored with it in 2012.

Charitable causes continue to rake in great amounts thanks to the generous nature of the racing community. After Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex had another ultra successful Catwalk for a Cause, the Speedway Children’s Charities gala this week pulled in $1.2 million. The racing community not only takes care of their own but loves to help others as well. The efforts from the SCC are yet another example.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame announced its five-member 2019 class this week. Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki and Jeff Gordon will make up the next class. The fan reaction has been mixed, with active owners being selected again and Allison and Kulwicki both being voted in with careers that were cut short due to tragedy. In the end, the greater discussion should now be turning to the requirement of five people per year. That seems to be too many at this point. The pool of Hall-worthy individuals is rapidly being depleted.

The secret may be out of the bag on why Larson is fast in his Chevrolets. When he spun on lap 274, video showed that his left rear tire was chattering going into the first turn. Tire chatter is a road course phenomenon, not a feature you see on an oval. No crew chiefs that were polled in the garage post-race by Frontstretch had ever seen a phenomenon like that. It is a safe bet they’ll all be researching it this week, though.

Who Is mad

Harvick had a weekend to forget. After failing qualifying tech inspection, he was forced to start at the rear of the field Sunday. Quickly Sunday, the No. 4 car raced through the field but the golden horseshoe that’s followed the team this year finally fell off. Harvick blew a right front tire, slamming into the outside wall late in stage one, and his race came to a premature end. In the grand scheme of things, the stumble is but a blip on the radar for Harvick, who remains a heavy favorite to capture the series title

Lots of people have BBQs on Memorial Day weekend. It is a safe bet Ryan Blaney did not plan on having one in his No. 12 on Sunday night. Lap 278 saw Blaney’s Ford erupt into a huge ball of flames in Turn 1, ending what had been a quality top-five performance. The result was a 36th-place finish and a slip to 11th in points. At least the series heads to Pocono Raceway next weekend, a track where Blaney scored his first career win last season.

Who Is happy

He has been a frequent visitor to the Who Is Mad section over the last year, and it seems odd to have a seven-time champion be excited about a top-five finish. But that is the case this Memorial Day for Johnson. The Chevrolets have struggled this year, but they seemed better Sunday, although Johnson complained quite a bit throughout most of the night about how poorly his No. 48 drove. If Hendrick Motorsports gets its cars to drive the way he likes them, the other teams could be in for some trouble.

McMurray has been the forgotten brother at Chip Ganassi Racing for the last year or so. Larson has been the strongest driver in the Chevrolet stable all year, but the results haven’t trickled down to this teammate. However, McMurray found the high groove Sunday and rode it all of the way to a sixth-place finish. He was especially happy the final stage went green because other teams had used up all of their tires. The No. 1 team excelled at tire management and seemed to be at its best in long runs.

When the checkered flag flew

  • Kyle Busch won the 47th race of his career in his 475th start.
  • This is Busch’s first points victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway
  • In 2018 Busch has scored four victories.
  • On the all-time wins list, Busch is now alone in 15th, one win behind Hall of Famer Herb Thomas.
  • Busch is now the only driver with victories at all of the active tracks currently on the Cup schedule.
  • Martin Truex Jr. came home second Sunday night. It is his second top two of the season.
  • This is Truex’s third career top two run at Charlotte.
  • For his career Truex has 14 top-two finishes, which ties him with Clint Bowyer for 55th on the all-time list.
  • Rounding out the podium was Denny Hamlin with his third top three of his career at Charlotte.
  • Hamlin has finished on the podium three times in 2018, all three third-place finishes.
  • For his career this is Hamlin’s 93rd top three. That ranks him 26th on the all-time list.
  • Darrell Wallace Jr. finished 16th on Sunday night to claim his sixth Rookie of the Race award.
  • For the year, Wallace and William Byron have both won Rookie of the Race six times.

Austin Dillon, Harvick, Truex, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Logano are the six race winners in 13 races of 2018. Assuming there are 16 or fewer unique winners in the regular season, they will be locked into the playoffs based on their victories.

Harvick and Busch are locked into the playoffs thanks to two-plus wins, assuming they attempt the remaining regular season races.

The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points are below.

(race winners are bolded)

1) Kyle Busch – 25

2) Joey Logano – 7

3) Kevin Harvick – 24

4) Brad Keselowski – 4

5) Martin Truex Jr. – 7

6) Kurt Busch – 2

7) Denny Hamlin – 1

8) Clint Bowyer – 5

9) Kyle Larson – 1

10) Aric Almirola – 0

11) Ryan Blaney – 3

12) Jimmie Johnson – 0

13) Erik Jones – 0

14) Alex Bowman – 0

15) Chase Elliott – 0

19) Austin Dillon – 5

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

The race was another one of those old school butt whippings. Similar to two years ago when Truex stomped the field into submission, leading 392 laps, Busch was on point for 377. The racing in the pack was intense and the multiple strategies in play kept things interesting. But up front? We had ourselves a snoozer. I’ll give this race two Redneck Hill Ales from Cabarrus Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

After the longest race of the year, the series heads to one of its longest race tracks in Pocono, Pa. Coverage next weekend begins at 2:00 p.m., Sunday, June 3 on FOX Sports 1 or streamed on the Fox Sports Go app. It’ll also be on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

12 comments

  1. Avatar

    ZZZZZZZZ oh it’s time to wake up?

  2. Avatar

    Two questions for anybody who knows: First, why was Austin Dillon allowed back on the track after taking the car to the garage for crash damage? Did some #3 fan among the NASCAR officials decide he had a mechanical issue ASIDE from the wreck? Or is it just “special rules for special people?”

    Two, is it true that Toyota got a boost in HP from NASCAR? Or is that just speculation based on the fact that the Toy’s finished 1-2-3? And if so, when will the Chevy’s get their boost? Mike Neff wants to say Jimmie is happy with a Top 5, but the fact is he was half a lap behind and never threatened the #18 or the #78. And the other Chevy’s in the Top Ten were nearly a lap behind, so No Big Deal there.

    • Avatar

      In other words, the Chevy’s still suck.

    • Amy Henderson

      The issue that sent Dillon to the garage was due to a mechanical issue and not to crash damage. Teams are allowed to fix such issues in the garage.

      • Avatar

        I understand that teams are allowed to fix mechanical issues in the garage, but what was the nature of the mechanical issue? Did it cause the wreck or did it mysteriously appear after the wreck, which would lead one to think it might have been caused by the wreck? Too many questions, too few answers.

        • Amy Henderson

          It was a bad wheel bearing, I think; at least that’s what was discussed on the team radio. I believe it was part of the problem that led to the cut tire and then caused the subsequent problem.

    • Avatar

      My question about the 3 was when they showed the 72!!!!!!! passed him and pulled away.

  3. Avatar

    A real yawner. I’m usually the first to say that I’m OK with one guy showing up, leading most of the laps and totally killing the field but two years in a row at the 600 made this unbearable. And, maybe it’s me, but it seems like one guy dominating the race without a serious challenger has been happening much more over the last couple of years. Whatever, congrats to Busch on his win but damn that was painful to watch for 4 hours (again this year).
    Also, I am not a fan of the stages but 3 are more than enough no matter how long the race.

    • Avatar

      It’s not as bad with the sound muted. I’m for Crank It Up for the whole event. How many times did they show the stat for the most wins in the 600. It had to be at least four that I saw. And they had to have a picture of DW also. I wonder why?

      • Avatar

        It hasn’t happened two years in a row. Martin Truex had a similarly dominating performance in 2016. Last year, the Silver Spoon Kid won on fuel mileage after leading maybe 2 laps, leading to 2nd place Kyle Busch throwing the mic on the table at his press conference afterwards.

        Given the choice, I’d rather see the winner dominate the race rather than luck into it, especially when it put him (Dillon) in the Playoffs where he clearly does not belong.

        • Avatar

          Agreed. Not a big fan of someone backing into a win. No wonder I forgot about it.
          I thought for sure it was last year that Truex dominated (I guess because he won the championship and won a bunch of 1.5 milers… I just assumed).
          Regardless, it seems to be happening a lot.