With his involvement in IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Memorial Day Weekend has always been special for Roger Penske, who has invested so much of his life into various forms of motorsports.
However, after the finish of Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the NASCAR Cup Series team owner will have even more to celebrate, after his driver Ryan Blaney drove to victory in the longest event of the season.
Leading a race-high 163 laps, Blaney was able to break away from William Byron and Martin Truex, Jr. on a restart with 20 laps to go, maintaining a gap of about one second throughout the race’s final run to score his eighth NASCAR Cup Series victory.
“I might shed a tear,” Blaney said post-race. “This has been a cool weekend. Obviously, Memorial Day weekend means a lot, growing up here watching Dad run this race for a long time. It’s so cool just to be a part of it, let alone win it.”
The High Point, North Carolina native is the second driver to snap a 50-plus-race winless streak in the NASCAR Cup Series over the last five races, after Martin Truex, Jr. returned to victory lane at Dover.
Blaney, like runner-up finisher William Byron, was a fixture at the front of the pack throughout the entire 600 miles, showing the strength in his No. 12 Ford Mustnag on the short-run, when facing off against the leaders on restarts.
At the start-finish line, Blaney held a gap of 0.663 seconds over the Hendrick Motorsports driver, who had begun to chase down the No. 12 in the final couple laps of the event, but didn’t have the time required to close the gap.
Byron, who started on the pole as a result of the performance metric, used pit selection to his advantage by selecting the furthest stall down pit road, which won him nearly every race off of pit road.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver paced the field of 91 laps on Monday, inheriting the lead on nine different occasions over the course of the 600-mile contest. The runner-up finish marks Byron’s fourth straight top-five.
Martin Truex, Jr. rebounded from a pit road penalty to finish in third place, his third finish inside the top five this season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver showed his speed on the long run throughout the event but was unable to find himself in a position to lead the race.
Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick, teammates at 23XI Racing, came home in fourth and fifth, scoring a double top-five for the organization, in a similar fashion to the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro.
Finishing fourth, Wallace has now recorded three consecutive points-paying top-five finishes, dating back to races at Kansas and Darlington. It wasn’t without excitement though, after getting shoved under the second stage rain delay by Aric Almirola.
Kyle Busch came home in sixth place, despite his involvement in a multi-car accident prior to the halfway point of the event, which saw his No. 8 Alsco Uniforms Chevrolet sustain some minor damage.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. put together a stellar seventh-place finish for JTG Daugherty Racing, with Chris Buescher, the winner of stage two, in eighth, and Austin Dillon in ninth, after putting on fresh tires under the final caution.
Rounding out the top-10 was an impressive story in the Coca-Cola 600, Zane Smith, making his third of six starts in the No. 38 Ford Mustang for Front Row Motorsports. Similar to Dillon, Smith put on new tires during the final caution.
In his return to the NASCAR Cup Series after missing three weeks for a fractured vertebra, Alex Bowman recorded a 12th-place finish, after completing the entire 600-mile distance.
Another strong finish inside the top-20 belonged to JJ Yeley, who brought Rick Ware Racing’s No. 15 home on the lead lap in 16th, ahead of some heavy-hitters like Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, and Christopher Bell.
The biggest incident of the afternoon came prior to the halfway point of the race when Denny Hamlin took a nasty shunt to the frontstretch wall after contact from Chase Elliott sent both cars to the outside wall.
Hamlin, who took the brunt of the impact, called for Elliott to be suspended for his actions, as he believes the Hendrick Motorsports driver intentionally right-rear hooked him into the fence.
Jimmie Johnson, making his third start of the season for LEGACY MOTOR CLUB, rounded out the 37-car field in Monday’s event, after being involved in a pair of accidents, which Johnson described as simple mistakes.
Leaving Charlotte, the top-six in regular-season standings in the NASCAR Cup Series are only separated by 17 points, with Ross Chastain leading over Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., and Christopher Bell.
Up next for the NASCAR Cup Series is a trip to St. Louis for the second event for NASCAR’s top level at WWT Raceway. Joey Logano will look to defend his victory at the 1.25-mile facility, while the rest of the field will look to dethrone him in spectacular fashion.