One thing about the Coca-Cola 600 is that either the cream rises to the top and the top finishers are exactly who you’d expect them to be, or it comes down to fuel strategy and there are some unexpected numbers on the pylon. Sunday’s race was one of the former, and the nine drivers who finished on the lead lap were no surprise. But one driver and his team tried a strategy play, staying out on the final caution of the night. If there had been one more yellow flag in the race, it would have netted Landon Cassill a top-10 finish. For Cassill, who has struggled with newcomer BK Racing to earn a Top-35 points position, a top 10 would have been huge.
One sure way to make people mad at you at a restrictor-plate race is to throw an ill-timed block. It’s by no means a dirty move; it’s instinctually trying to protect position. But the danger lies in the act that there’s a split-second window in which to make the move work. This week, AJ Allmendinger tried to throw a block at Denny Hamlin after that window had already closed. The ensuing multi-car crash ended the hopes of a dozen other teams. It wasn’t the only wreck of the day, but it was the most preventable.
It will be one of the biggest surprises of 2012 if AJ Allmendinger doesn’t win a race in his new Penske Racing ride. Early on, it looked like this could be the week for the Los Gatos, Calif., native as Allmendinger beat the field in qualifying to take the pole for the STP 400, and led handily in the early going. But an engine problem reared its ugly head at Allmendinger’s team as the race approached the 100-lap mark. Allmendinger would stay on track after a lengthy pit stop to address the issue, but it cost four laps and relegated Allmendinger to a finish of just 32nd after starting at the front.
Race One – A caution froze the field on the final lap of the race as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was trying to mount a challenge on Tony Stewart for the win. Race Two – Greg Biffle dominated the race but swept up on the final lap thinking he’d hook up with teammate Matt Kenseth to seal the deal. Instead, Kenseth dove down into the lower lane Biffle had opened for him, towing Jimmie Johnson in his wake to take the lead and the win.