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Ryan Blaney Dominates Closely Contested Coca-Cola 600

Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Juan Arroyo

Credit: Logan Riely/Getty Images

In a race weekend already filled with anticipation and patriotic fervour, the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway delivered a close battle for the win.

This year's edition, scheduled to take place on Memorial Weekend Sunday, faced an unforeseen obstacle as rain forced the race to be postponed to Monday afternoon, when the green flag finally dropped.

Stage 1

William Byron led most of the first stage, including grabbing the stage win, but he had plenty of company up front thanks to Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney.

When it came to cautions, there was only one that resulted from an incident, with Jimmie Johnson experiencing a light crash and spin in turn two on lap 74. However, the rest of the Legacy Motor Club felt the effects of his spin, as teammates Noah Gragson and Erik Jones each hit debris from the incident, puncturing their radiators and effectively ending their races.

Stage 2

Following the end of Stage 1, the chaos would only intensify. While Bell would lead the start of Stage 2, a new contender emerged at the front: Tyler Reddick. He made his presence known by taking the lead during the pit cycles on lap 152.

The incidents continued, as Austin Cindric had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 142 after tapping the wall and puncturing a tire. During the pit cycles, Bubba Wallace saw his run take a hit when he was forced to serve a drive-through penalty due to pit equipment interference.

Mother Nature struck again in the middle of Stage 2 with a caution and red flag flying for a light rain shower in turn three. Although the delay was only roughly 30 minutes, the off-track drama persisted. According to a fan video, Bubba Wallace and Aric Almirola got into a minor skirmish on pit road, but it did not escalate during the race.

Upon the green flag waving once more for the restart, the crashes continued. On the first restart, Jimmie Johnson spun on the backstretch after colliding with LMC teammate Noah Gragson. Both were able to continue without significant damage. Despite making it through more laps on the second restart, it wouldn't last long, as Kyle Busch spun on the backstretch after contact with Daniel Suarez.

The biggest talking point of the stage came a few laps after the third restart. After Denny Hamlin ran him up to the wall in turn four, Chase Elliott seemingly retaliated by hooking Hamlin's right rear and sending him head-on into the outside wall in the tri-oval. It was a huge hit for Joe Gibbs driver Hamlin, who did not hold back in expressing his thoughts on the incident.

"It's unacceptable," said Hamlin in the care center following the crash. "It's a temper tantrum, and he shouldn't be allowed to race next week." Although Elliott commented, stating that it was due to "how undrivable these things are when they're in the wall," NASCAR's decision regarding the incident remains to be seen.

Credit: David Jensen/Getty Images

However, all of this chaos did not hinder the battle at the front from heating up. Although Blaney and Reddick led for the majority of the latter half, RFK's Chris Buescher took the lead on the restart and held it to win Stage 2, marking his first stage win since 2021. This stage did not end without more chaos, as BJ McLeod's spin on the front stretch on the final lap of the stage brought it to an end.

Stage 3

Stage 3 began with Stenhouse leading the field to the green flag after staying out. Kevin Harvick, in his last Coca-Cola 600, would soon take the lead on the next lap. However, his lead would not last long as Ryan Blaney eventually regained the lead.

Trouble was not limited to the mid-pack, as on lap 232, Christopher Bell spun unassisted on the front stretch. Although the damage was minimal, it sent Bell to the back of the pack.

Under the yellow flag, the drama continued on pit road. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Chris Buescher made contact. While Truex's car seemed unaffected, Busch complained about vibrations for the rest of the run, and Buescher was ultimately sent to the back due to the slow pit stop.

As the green flag flew on lap 236, a long green flag run ensued with Blaney leading for the majority and Byron for a short time. However, this run was interrupted by a crash involving Todd Gilliland and Brad Keselowski on the backstretch. Keselowski continued with damage, but the crash caused terminal damage for Gilliland.

After the clean-up, the green flag remained out until the end of the stage. However, this did not come without more drama, as Kyle Larson tapped the wall in turn two. Blaney ultimately won the stage, marking his first win of the season and at Charlotte, with Reddick in second and Truex closely behind in third.

Final Stage

As the final stage began, the chaos appeared to slow its pace. Although Byron's pit crew had been on top of their game all day, allowing him to lead six times during yellow flag stops, Blaney took the lead and held onto it. While he faced pressure from Tyler Reddick, it was short-lived as Reddick nearly spun off turn 4 on lap 320, allowing Kyle Busch to take second place.

On lap 344, the green flag run came to an end just before pit cycles. Due to an error on pit road, the right-front tire on Michael McDowell's car came off, causing a yellow flag for debris.

As the green flag flew once more on lap 350, Byron regained the lead and finally held onto it. However, he wouldn't face pressure from behind for long, as Harvick washed up high and slammed into Reddick, causing the No. 4 car to spin down the front stretch and bringing out the caution yet again on lap 358.

On the restart on lap 364, the caution would wait for only three corners to come out again. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumped AJ Allmendinger into turn four, sending his car around and collecting Harrison Burton in the process. Although there was damage, it was not terminal for either driver, but they were placed at the back as a result of the incident.

The theme of cautions on the restart continued on lap 370. Austin Cindric, who had been running at the back after tapping the wall in Stage 2, washed up high into Chris Buescher's car. This sent Cindric's car to the bottom of the track and hard into the wall on the backstretch, ending his race.

The theme became even more apparent on the next restart on lap 376, resulting in a pileup. Kyle Larson spun in turn two, leading to Christopher Bell and Joey Logano making contact with him. After being hit, Larson came back up the track and collected Ty Gibbs, who had been having a top-five run up to that point. The damage was terminal for Kyle Larson. Although William Byron had the lead for the last two cautions, Ryan Blaney finally retook it at the timing line following the pileup.

The next restart on lap 380 finally resulted in a green flag run, although it was nearly a brief one as Kyle Busch made an excellent save on lap 383 after contact with Stenhouse. A newcomer in the top four eventually emerged, with Bubba Wallace battling his teammate to take fourth place.

That proved to be the last caution, as Ryan Blaney went on to win the 2023 Coca-Cola 600. William Byron had to settle for second place after being a front-runner all day. Martin Truex Jr. finished third after a strong rally at the end. Bubba Wallace showed up when it mattered and took fourth place. Tyler Reddick rounded out the top five with a strong performance throughout the race.


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