There is something special when you have a major anniversary of a race or a track. Earlier this month, I got to witness the 60th running of the Southern 500, and last year NASCAR ran it’s 50th Daytona 500. Just being able to win a major race on it’s anniversary means something to the drivers and crew. On this Memorial Day weekend, another anniversary was celebrated as the Lowe’s Motor Speedway celebrated the 50th running of NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600.
Things got off to a fast start as “Rocket Man” Ryan Newman earned the pole for the race, his first since joining Stewart-Haas Racing. Unfortunately, the speed and excitement would come to a halt on Sunday. With rain in the area, NASCAR was ready to get the field going for the race. Driver introductions were completed, Amazing Grace was played on the bagpipes for the Memorial Day celebration, the U.S. Army gave a 21-gun salute, the bugler played Taps and the National Anthem was sung to honor the Unites States.
However, that’s as far as the events on Sunday would get. Intermittent rain showers plagued the speedway and prevented cars from starting, and the start of the race was delayed. Some drivers talked with crews, some went to the haulers, and some just rested on pit road under umbrellas.
After waiting over three hours past the scheduled start time, NASCAR officials elected to postpone the race to Monday because track drying efforts would take far too long to get the race in. It was the first time in the history of the Coca-Cola 600 that the race was postponed due to rain. The race was then set to start at noon on Memorial Day.
Mother Nature didn’t exactly cooperate as the weather on Monday was still overcast with rain in the area. Seemingly, it now became a race to make 300 miles instead of 600 so that the race would be official. With rain again in the area, the field took the green flag on Memorial Day for the first time as Newman and outside-pole sitter, Kyle Busch, jumped out ahead of the field.
Busch got around Newman on lap 3, but didn’t get to extend his lead because the caution flew on lap 7 as rain started falling on the track. The caution didn’t last long, but some drivers elected to hit pit road for new tires and adjustments. No fuel could be added to the cars because NASCAR would throw a competition caution at lap 40.
The field was brought back to the green flag on lap 12, and Busch elected to start pulling away, just as he has done a lot this season. Only five laps later, the yellow flag came out again as Kevin Harvick hit the wall when his right-front tire blew out following contact with Sam Hornish Jr.
The field would get the green flag again on lap 21, and Kyle Busch led the entire way as the competition caution flew on lap 41, finally allowing teams to fuel their cars for the first time. All the lead cars came down pit road, mostly for new tires and some adjustments. Jimmie Johnson won the race off pit road when he elected to only take right-side tires, giving him his first lead of the afternoon.
The field restarted on lap 45, and it only took Busch three laps to run down Johnson and retake the lead as he was complaining of a loose condition. Busch would hold the lead until lap 71 as the yellow flag came out again because of rain. Some cars came down pit road for service, but it proved to be a bit of a bad move as officials posted the red flag shortly after 1:00 because of the rain.
The red flag would last less than an hour as the track drying efforts kept a lot of heat in the asphalt, and drivers would return and restart their cars shortly after 2 p.m. The field took the green flag on lap 80, which would then start a long, green-flag run for the field.
Busch held the lead, but the driver on the move was Brian Vickers in the Red Bull Toyota. He took second from Johnson on lap 118, and two laps later got the lead position from Busch.
A few laps later the round of green-flag pit stops would begin as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin came down pit road for service. Busch, Johnson and Vickers would all come in for scheduled service beginning on lap 130, with each one coming in on successive laps. Busch would regain the lead from Vickers with a faster pit stop.
His lead would be short lived as once again, Vickers ran down the M&M’s Toyota and took the lead position on lap 145. Vickers would hold the lead until lap 163 when the caution flag came out. However, this caution was not for a wreck or debris. NASCAR threw the caution to honor the men and women of the armed forces.
On lap 166, the cars parked on the front stretch and the red flag was posted for the second time. All the crews stood on pit road, fans stood up and the flags were lowered to half-mast. Officials also held a moment of silence to honor the fallen soldiers. This was the first time I have ever seen NASCAR do this, but it was a fitting request as the drivers in the cars are putting their lives on the line because the soldiers are putting their lives on the line to keep the country free.
Leaders came down pit road on lap 168 for service, with Kyle Busch retaking the lead with a fast pit stop. However, racing would not resume as rain began falling once again in the first and second turns. After staying on track for nearly ten laps, cars were pulled to pit road and the red flag was posted for the third time.
The rain lasted about ten minutes, and the jet driers came out and began drying the racing surface once again. After a short, 22 minute red flag, the cars started back up and the green flag came back out on lap 180, with Busch leading followed by Kasey Kahne and Johnson.
Busch would extend his lead to nearly 1.5 seconds as the race made it to lap 200, making it an official event. Kahne began running down Busch bit by bit, however reports began to come out that rain once again had come to the race track.
On lap 221, the yellow flag flew again as rain began falling in turn two for the third time in the event. Cars came down pit road for service, while some elected to stay out and gamble if the race was to be called because of rain. On lap 227, drivers came down pit road again and the red flag was posted as rain continued to fall on the track.
The jet driers remained on the race track for nearly 20 minutes, but NASCAR made the call to have them return to the garage as the rain continued to fall. Some drivers went back to the garage and even changed into some casual clothes as they began thinking that the race wouldn’t be restarted.
After the pit stops, David Reutimann took the lead after electing to stay out, along with Newman and Robby Gordon. The entire time, he elected to stand on pit road without an umbrella to take in the rain.
The driers were sent back onto the race track shortly before 5 p.m. in an effort to try and get the surface clear of water. The trucks stayed on the track for nearly an hour, but the rain picked up once again and they were brought back to the garage shortly before 6 p.m. Finally, at 6:26 p.m, NASCAR made the decision to call the race due to weather, giving David Reutimann his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory in the 50th Coca-Cola 600.
This would be the first win for Michael Waltrip Racing and would also be the first victory for Toyota outside the Joe Gibbs organization. For a team that for the first two seasons had struggled to make races and unsure of sponsorship of Reutimann heading into the season, it was safe to say it was a dream come true as it was the “Aaron’s Dream Machine” in victory lane.
Next weekend, the series heads up north to the country’s first state, as they make the drive to Dover, Delaware to race at “The Monster Mile.” For this race, I’ve got two drivers to look at for victory. First is Kyle Busch, the defending race winner. This track suits his style of driving as it is a grueling test for 400 laps. My other favorite is Greg Biffle. He is long overdue for a win and this is one of his better tracks. Expect the 16-car to be up front a lot.
My dark horse for this event is Martin Truex Jr. I know this seems odd, but two years ago he won this race hands down. He was the last driver to win for Dale Earnhardt Inc. before the merger with Ganassi Racing. He may surprise a lot of people, but don’t be surprised if he runs well on the concrete.
Coverage will start at 1:30 next Sunday on FOX, which is the last race for the season on the network. As a fan, it’s always a great time to watch Mike Joy, Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip call the races, and it is going to be sad when I don’t get to hear “Boogity Boogity Boogity. Let’s go racing, boys” for the rest of the season. Great job by FOX all year long, and I’m looking forward to see what TNT will bring to the table after next week.
TOP 10: 1-Reutimann 2-Newman 3-Robby Gordon 4-Edwards 5-Vickers 6-Kyle Busch 7-Kahne 8-Montoya 9-Logano (R) 10-Kenseth
NOTABLE FINISHES: 13-Johnson 14-Jeff Gordon 17-Martin 19-Stewart 20-Biffle 25-Burton 38-Earnhardt Jr. 41-Harvick
CAUTIONS: Six for 46 laps. 7-11, 17-20, 41-44, 71-79, 163-179, 221-227
LEADERS: 14 Lead changes among 10 drivers. Newman 1-2, Kyle Busch 3-42, Raines 43, Johnson 44-47, Kyle Busch 48-72, Robby Gordon 73-74, Riggs 75-78, Kyle Busch 79-119, Vickers 120-131, Logano 132, Blaney 133, Kyle Busch 134-144, Vickers 145-167, Kyle Busch 168-222, Reutimann 223-227
POINT STANDINGS: 1-Jeff Gordon, 1722 points 2-Stewart, -44 3-Kurt Busch, -124 4-Johnson, -128 5-Hamlin, -147 6-Kyle Busch, -182 7-Newman, -184 8-Burton, -250 9-Kenseth, -262 10-Biffle, -274 11-Edwards, -291 12-Martin, -294