CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ryan Blaney held off William Byron to win the rescheduled Coca-Cola 600 on Monday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, giving team owner Roger Penske a sweep of the Memorial Day weekend’s top races in the United States.
Josef Newgarden won a record-extending 19th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday for Team Penske. It marked the first time Team Penske has earned a sweep of the two races in the same year.
Like Newgarden, Blaney went into the crowd to celebrate with fans after the win.
Blaney took the lead from Byron on a restart and led the final 26 laps to win his first Cup Series race since the 2021 Daytona’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, snapping a 59-race winless drought.
Blaney spoke with WCNC Charlotte's Ashley Stroehlein after the win, saying he watched this race with his dad when he was growing up, so to have his parents present Monday made the experience "even better."
"I cannot wait -- it is going to be the biggest party in Team Penske this week with the Indy 500 and the [Coca-Cola] 600 under their belt, that's so cool," Blaney told WCNC Charlotte.
The win came just days before Penske hosts a weekend of racing on the downtown streets of Detroit. The return of racing in downtown Detroit is Penske’s gift to the city he calls home. Then, the 86-year-old heads to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the very few events he’s yet to win.
There 5 1/2-hour race included five wrecks in the final 50 laps, including one with 26 to go when last week's All-Star race winner Kyle Larson spun and took out defending Cup champion Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell.
Blaney had passed Byron on the previous restart, and then beat him again on the final restart to take the checkered flag.
Byron finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick.
It was a rain-soaked weekend at Charlotte, which washed out practice and qualifying and postponed the race to Monday. That meant drivers began the race without ever having turned a lap in the NextGen cars at the 1.5-mile oval for the first time in Coca-Cola 600 history.
More rain caused the race to be red-flagged for nearly an hour after 158 laps, making the longest Cup race of the year even longer.
Defending race champion Denny Hamlin was left fuming after his day ended with a wreck on lap 186, prompting him to call for NASCAR to suspend its most popular driver Chase Elliott.
Hamlin claimed the Hendrick Motorsports driver intentionally wrecked him by hooking his right rear bumper following a dust-up earlier in the race.
Elliott’s car also sustained significant damage ending his day early, too. Elliott denied intentionally wrecking Hamlin in retaliation.
Johnson's team struggles
It was a rough night for Jimmie Johnson and his new Legacy Motor Club team.
After saying he has never been more ill-prepared for a race due to his inexperience in the NextGen car, Johnson spun out on lap 78 in a single-car crash. He took his No. 84 Chevy behind the wall a few laps later and was joined by there by Legacy teammates Erik Jones and Noah Gragson, who suffered radiator damage.
After Johnson returned, he crashed into Gragson and spun out a second time and went behind the wall again. He finished last.
“I think I learned a lesson with this aero package that I didn’t know about,” Johnson said. "Much different than the car I have driven in the past.”
Polesitter William Byron won the first stage after leading 44 laps. Chris Buescher won the second stage and Ryan Blaney won the third.
The Cup Series heads to Madison, Illinois, on Sunday, where 2022 Cup champion Joey Logano outdueled Kyle Busch in overtime to win the inaugural race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Fans attending the Xfinity Series race were required to exit the grandstands immediately after the race so that track officials can prepare for the Cup Series race.
Anyone who bought tickets for the race but was unable to attend will be able to swap their tickets for another Speedway Motorsports NASCAR or NTT IndyCar race within the next 12 months.
“We try to come to one race a year and this is the one we picked because the weather was supposed to be nice and warm,” Don Debaere said.
He and his pal Dan Bradfish drove in from the Midwest and stayed in a pop-up tent.
"We stayed dry in there,” said Debaere. "I think if it really started really pouring down rain then…we would really be underwater."
The Cabarrus County visitor information center said the economic impact of NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 goes beyond the ticket sales. The visitor dollars trickle down with money spent on hotels, food and shopping.
“We went and visited just about all the race team shops,” Bradfish said.
“We went to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, lots of race car shops and breweries so that was nice,” Debaere said.
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Bradfish purchased these three growlers from local breweries to add to his collection which has grown to about 100.
Robert Kemp, a business vendor also has collector items but on wheels.
“It is a Richard Petty car and it is autographed,” he said holding the model car.
Kemp travels to about six to eight races a year selling the race cars.
“I can make anywhere from [$4,000] to $6,000 on a five to six-day race weekend,” he continued.
This weekend he said his sales were not on track because of the wet weather.
“When it rains I still have to pay for the tent, the spot, the hotel since I traveled so it makes it harder to make a decent profit,” Kemp said.
He hopes to still make out okay but said being at the speedway and interacting with NASCAR fans like himself make the trip worth it.
“My daddy got in into racing when I was an early teen,” Kemp said. “Went to my first race in Atlanta and I was hooked ever since.”
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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