Larson dominates for Coca-Cola 600 win
By Rod Mullins | Augusta Free Press
CHARLOTTE – Thirteen leaders, 23 lead changes, a dominant performance by Kyle Larson from start to finish and a monumental accomplishment by Hendrick Motorsports in reaching the all time total wins in NASCAR. Yes, this Coca-Cola 600 was one to remember.
The race marked the return to normalcy after one year of pandemic measures that saw no fans in the stands last Memorial Day weekend and wondering when it would all come to an end.
On Sunday afternoon under partly cloudy skies and comfortable temperatures in the upper 60’s to low 70’s, life returned to normal as Charlotte Motor Speedway opened up for the fans and the fans certainly got a show. Not just the salute to the fighting men and women who gave their lives for our country and a military show but a monumental event that only a few could see in their racing crystal ball.
It was monumental that it was the first race by Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson dominated from start to finish, Larson led 327 of the 400 laps in NASCAR’s longest race, putting his No. 5 Chevrolet in Victory Lane for the second time this season and breaking a three-race streak of runner-up finishes.
The win at the 1.5-mile Charlotte track was the eighth of his Cup Series career and his first at the historic track. The win was Larson’s second NASCAR Cup win of the season and Larson’s first win in a NASCAR Cup race over 400 miles.
For the Hendrick Motorsports team, it was the 269th team win on their home track of Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was simply, Larson’s breakout win of his career.
“I thought we were going to have a 1,2,3, 4 finish but Kyle (Busch) had different thoughts about that. It was a great night for us as a team.”
Larson added that despite the win, it doesn’t mean Hendrick is going to completely dominate the 2021 Cup Series season.
“In my experience in the Cup Series, the team that is the best during the season is not necessarily the best come playoff time,” replied Larson. “I’m happy that we’re good but nothing is a cakewalk in this sport.”
After taking the pole, the only place for Larson to go was out in front and stay there.
But as the laps wound down, the rumblings started. What if Kyle Larson let this premier win slip through his fingers again after such a dominating performance, much like he did at Atlanta?
But as Larson continued to lead, he widened the gap from a 2 second lead to as much as 10 seconds before the end of the race, leaving fellow Hendrick drivers Elliott, Byron and Bowman to make sure Larson stayed out in front while challenging the young driver for the win.
And stay in front he did, with a few pit stops along the way with under 100 laps to go to get the MetroTech Chevrolet Camaro out front and stay there for 600 miles.
Larson took stage points in the first three stage wins and the most important one; the checkered flag at the end of 600 miles at NASCAR’s longest endurance race of the season.
Chase Elliott finished second after leading and staying near the top, while Toyota driver Kyle Busch salvaged a third place finish, jockeying for position but not having enough horses under the hood to keep pace with the California driver.
William Byron finished fourth and Alex Bowman finished fifth after early troubles looked to doom the Richmond and Dover winner.
Chevrolet driver Austin DIllon finished sixth, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin finished seventh, Chris Buescher in a Ford finished eighth, Tyler Reddick finished ninth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the Top Ten.
While Larson won the race in dominating fashion, the night also belonged to Rick Hendrick and the Hendrick Motorsports organization, breaking the tie with Petty Enterprises for the most wins by a racing organization. Last week at Circuit of the Americas, Chase Elliott tied the mark by Petty Enterprises with 268.
Tonight, Larson broke through that glass ceiling and sent Hendrick over the top at 269 wins. The veteran car owner was praiseworthy of all of his drivers but one in particular, the driver he took a chance on when it seemed no one would take him back; Kyle Larson.
“I’ve been fortunate with the talent in our organization,” replied Hendrick on his team’s accomplishment tonight. As for Kyle Larson, “He wants to win. He’s got a desire to win and some awesome talent.”
Hendrick added that Larson has “run so well this year. He’s been in a position to win and he’s been through a whole lot and I’m excited that we’ve got a great guy.”
“It feels like we’re back,” said Hendrick.
But for Larson, it’s just a part of the journey back.
“It all kind of came together,” replied Larson in his closing remarks. “It’s changed my life and given me a second chance in one of America’s premier motorsports.”
So with dominating performances from Larson, Elliott, Bowman and Byron in 2021, it was only fitting that tonight’s win for Larson capped off a long journey for car owner Rick Hendrick.
“Mr. Hendrick has affected a lot of lives, he’s changed my life,” according to Chase Elliott following the race. “He’s been a role model.”
The NASCAR Cup Series packs up and heads west for wine country and the Sonoma Raceway road course next week.
Coca-Cola 600 Top Ten Finishing Order:
Kyle Larson – Chevrolet – Winner (led 372 of 400 laps)
Chase Elliott – Chevrolet
Kyle Busch – Toyota
William Byron – Chevrolet
Alex Bowman – Chevrolet
Austin Dillon – Chevrolet
Denny Hamlin – Toyota
Chris Buescher – Ford
Tyler Reddick – Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick – Ford
13 leaders, 23 lead changes, 16 cars on the lead lap, 4 total cautions with six Chevrolets in the top ten, two Toyotas and two Fords completed the field.