Ryan Blaney wins Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte to end winless drought
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Jumping into the crowd to celebrate a big race victory appears to have become a Team Penske thing.
Ryan Blaney held off William Byron to win the rescheduled Coca-Cola 600 on Monday at Charlotte 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. Like Newgarden, Blaney jumped out of his car and climbed into the crowd to celebrate the win with fans.
“I only did it because Josef did it,” Blaney said. “I was pretty fired up. I don’t get that excited very often, but I was super pumped. I loved how Josef did it Sunday. … I said, ‘I am going to go in the stands like Josef did and have some human contact.’”
Blaney compared it to jumping into a mosh pit at a metal concert.
A few moments later, he tried to hold back tears with the weight of 59-race winless streak lifted from his shoulders.
“You start to get to feel like you can’t win anymore,” Blaney said. “We hadn’t won in awhile and that can get hard. I want to thank the 12 (team) for believing in me.”
Blaney took the lead from Byron on a restart and led the final 26 laps to win his first Cup Series race since the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona in August of 2021.
Byron finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick.
Truex said Blaney’s emotions are understandable.
“He’s under a lot of pressure to perform,” Truex said. “They’ve won a lot of races since his last race. I’m sure he questioned himself through some point during that streak that he was on. He’s had many opportunities to win and they’ve slipped away. Those are the hardest to think about so he’s probably thinking, ‘we finally did it.’”
It is the first time Team Penske has swept the Indianapolis-Charlotte doubleheader.
“The pressure was on us to try to sweep the weekend,” said Blaney, who said he texted Newgarden after the Indy 500 win. “So that was the goal. Fortunately we executed well enough to get it done.”
Blaney’s 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.
The 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 got the jump on him again on the final restart and ran away with the checkered flag.
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.
“It’s a tantrum and he shouldn’t be racing next week,” Hamlin said of Elliott. “Right rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. I don’t care.”
Elliott denied intentionally wrecking Hamlin in retaliation.
Hamlin wasn’t the only one fired up.
During the rain delay television cameras caught Aric Almirola throwing punches at Wallace after the two exchanged words. Wallace refused to say what sparked the altercation, and said he wasn’t surprised at what unfolded.
“When you walk around with two faces, that’s what you get,” Wallace said.
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.”
Harvick’s last run
Kevin Harvick finished 11th in his final Coca-Cola 600.
Harvick, who is retiring after the season, won the race in 2011 and 2013. He started Monday’s race on the front row, but quickly fell back to the mid-20s and was never a major factor in the race.
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.