[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”230″][/media-credit]In the NASCAR season’s longest race of the year, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 53rd running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Although billed as the sport’s longest race, usually known for the endurance factor moving from day to night, this year’s Coke 600 was the quickest one ever.
The race took a total of 3 hours, 51 minutes and 14 seconds.
Prior to 53rd running of the Coca Cola 600, the longest race was in 1995 at 3 hours, 56 minutes and 55 seconds.
Not Surprising: After finally scoring his 200th win for the company that bears his name, Rick Hendrick’s prediction of more wins to follow came true. Kasey Kahne, in the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet, secured his first win as a Hendrick Motorsport’s driver, which came on his 300th career start.
The win was also Kahne’s first win of the season. The 32 year old driver has now won in a Dodge, Ford, Toyota and now a Chevrolet.
“It’s been an exciting three weeks for Hendrick Motorsports,” Kahne said. “It’s exciting to be a part of that.”
“It’s so special and awesome to drive for Rick and Linda Hendrick,” Kahne continued. “For them to make me a part of their company; this is unbelievable to drive for Hendrick Motorsports and be a part of everything they do.”
Surprising: After winning last weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race, it was surprising to see Jimmie Johnson have a rare pit road miscue, especially since he was running the top-5 at that time. Johnson received a stop-and-go penalty for leaving his pits with both the gas man and the gas can on Lap 354.
“We had a couple little mistakes on pit road tonight,” Johnson said. “It happens.”
“Last week things couldn’t have gone any better and then this week we had a few little issues.”
Not Surprising: As he has been all season, it was not surprising that Greg Biffle, in his No. 16 Fastenal Ford, was a contender all race long. In fact, Biff received the 3M Lap Leader award, leading 204 laps.
Biffle maintains the points lead, ten points ahead of Matt Kenseth.
“The car was really, really good,” Biffle said. “But there at the end when the speeds picked up, we would kind of slide across the track.”
“We gained a little in points, but we really wanted to win.”
Surprising: After a most abysmal start to the season, it was surprising to see Jeff Gordon finally get a top ten finish under his belt. Gordon, behind the wheel of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, ran strong, finishing seventh.
“We had an awesome race car and we showed it right from the drop of the green,” Gordon said. “We drove up through there.”
“This is a great effort for this team,” Gordon continued. “I’m so proud of them.”
Not Surprising: HMS teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his consistent streak, scoring his seventh top-10 in eight races.
“It just says we are consistent and we want to win a race,” Junior said. “That’s all I can tell you.”
“It feels good to be competitive,” Junior continued. “I don’t want to take our consistency for granted but we would like to improve just a little bit more and we’ll get some wins.”
Surprising: It was surprising how badly the Petty Motorsports drivers finished, especially after securing the pole and outside pole respectively.
Aric Almirola, who started on the pole with his famed No. 43 US Air Force Ford Fusion, finished 16th. Outside pole sitter Marcos Ambrose finished 32nd in his No. 9 Dewalt Ford.
“When you start on the front row or the pole, you know you’ve got a fast car,” Almirola said. “So, this is tough.”
“But I can’t reiterate enough that we’re making improvement,” Almirola continued. “We see light at the end of the tunnel and that’s what it’s all about.”
“I’m proud of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports.”
Not Surprising: Despite the naysayers, Danica Patrick achieved her goal of completing every lap of the race. The driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet finished 30th, five laps down.
“We had a lot of green-flag running and for me as a driver in general in NASCAR but especially as a new driver in the Cup Series, that hurts me,” Patrick said. “I’m just not great at making the best out of a car that’s not perfect and those runs really show that.”
“We brought the GoDaddy car home and one of the goals was to finish,” Patrick continued. “I would have liked to have been a little faster overall but I think there were some times in there when it was decent.”
Surprising: It was a bit surprising to see Ryan Newman outshine his boss at a track where Tony Stewart is traditionally strong. Newman, driving the No. 39 US Army Chevrolet, finished 14th and his boss and team owner in his No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet finished 25th .
Smoke was moving forward after adjusting on his car throughout the race only to have a tussle with Brad Keselowski on pit road. Stewart spun as a result of that contact and had to turn around to reach his pits, putting him two laps down.
Teammate Danica Patrick acknowledged that her mentor had a tough evening.
“Tony is a fantastic driver and if he had a tough day, that’s just the way the season goes,” Patrick said. “So this is NASCAR and sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t.”
Not Surprising: While he may not have totally lived up to his ‘Closer’ moniker, Kevin Harvick brought his No. 29 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevrolet home in eighth place.
“We had a solid night,” Harvick said. “We snuck up there in the top-five and got our bonus point for leading a lap.”
“The pit crew was awesome and we were able to adjust our car,” Harvick continued. “This isn’t our strongest race track, but I feel like we had a solid package to build on.”
Surprising: Young Landon Cassill, in his No. 83 Burger King Real Fruit Smoothies Toyota, had a great run in the prestigious Coca Cola 600, finishing 18th. It was his team’s best finish of the season to date and the first time that the team started and finished inside the top-20.
“Last’ week’s performance at Charlotte was a real confidence booster for us,” Cassill said. “I feel like we’re getting stronger each week and it gets me excited as a driver.”
Not Surprising: Two of the principals of Joe Gibbs Racing had a good run as they usually do. Denny Hamlin, in the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota, finished in the runner up spot and teammate Kyle Busch, in his No. 18 M&Ms Red White and Blue Toyota, finished right behind him in third.
“It’s also good to finish like that,” Busch said. “We just need to carry on that momentum.”
“This is a good race for us so we can bring back some good notes for when we come back in October.”