NASCAR: Round 12- Coca-Cola 600, Lowes’s Motor Speedway – May 24

On a day that saw the world’s most glamorous motor race (the Monaco GP) and biggest spectator attendance (the Indy 500), NASCAR was set to respond with the longest event on its calendar: the 600-mile event at Lowe’s Motor Speedway going from daylight through dusk to a night time finish. And then it rained.

Everyone toughed it out for a few hours, but the day was lost and NASCAR had to abandon the attempt and move it to daytime on Monday instead, in front of a considerably diminished crowd. Added to all this, the track was now washed completely clean of all the rubber the cars had been putting down – no one knew how it was going to behave once the green flag came out.

The weather prospects were only slightly more promising for Monday than they had been the previous day, and sure enough, no sooner did the race finally get underway just after midday on the holiday Monday than a yellow came out on lap 7 for a slight shower. This was going to be a touch and go event, and exactly how long they would actually be able to go was a big question.

The first yellow was a brief affair, but there was a longer second yellow on lap 17 when Kevin Harvick – already damaged following contact with Sam Hornish a couple of laps earlier – then lost handling and hit the wall. The third yellow was a pre-scheduled competition yellow on lap 40 to allow the teams to come in and adjust to the new conditions.

At this point, we’d had two leaders. Polesitter Ryan Newman had led only a lap before Kyle Busch took over in front; Kyle was complaining of the smell of electrical burning and an instrumentation problem, suggesting that the heavy rain the previous day had infiltrated the car’s systems, but that didn’t stop him from running out in front seemingly effortlessly until he could pit under the yellow for a reboot.

Busch dropped to 2nd after the pit stops behind Jimmie Johnson and ahead of Mark Martin, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin, but Kyle quickly took the lead back and Johnson got shuffled down to third by Martin before dropping even further down the field complaining the number 48 was now very loose.

Other cars having early problems were Jeff Gordon (down to 16th) and former leader Ryan Newman, who had been forced to pit twice under the competition yellow with lugnut problems and now found himself stuck in 33rd. Dale Earnhardt Jr was even worse off in 36th and falling. On the way up, on the other hand, Tony Stewart had climbed from 28th to 14th.

The rain returned in some strength on lap 71, a “thunder shower” as it was described meaning a lengthy delay in proceedings, with the caution going to red on lap 73 and everyone parking up in the pit lane. The forecast and local radar were not looking good, showing lots of pockets of rain in the area just waiting to pounce, and the intermission lasted over an hour before racing was able to resume.

Kyle leapt away from Carl Edwards, David Reutimann, Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano at the restart; Mark Martin had been sent to the back of the lead lap for a loose tyre bouncing across pit lane in the last stop and had to make his way back up through the field. Ryan Newman had bounced back into the top 20 after taking only two tyres, and up and down the field there was some hard racing going on – even three-wide, as the drivers sensed that the race would be closer to 200 laps than 400 with all the rain delays, and that there was no time to waste.

Jimmie Johnson’s problems had been cured with some quality pit time and he was heading back into second and set about catching Kyle. But Dale Jr.’s car was a disaster, with the 88 now running 42nd and practically undriveable finally going a lap down on lap 112.

As the longest green flag stint of the afternoon wore on, Johnson and Busch both started to fade somewhat and it was Brian Vickers who blasted past them both to take the lead with Juan Montoya following him through to take up second. That was on the stroke of green flag pit stops that took place around lap 131, and Kyle had the best of the pit stops and emerged in the lead once again. But Vickers proved that whatever happened in the pit stops, the number 83 had the pace on track – and he retook the lead on lap 145 with comparative ease. Montoya also repeated his run into second on lap 158 as Kyle struggled with traffic.

The yellows came out again on lap 162, for an unprecedented 3pm observance on US Memorial Day; the cars cut their engines for a moment on the track to join the minute of silence. That was unfortunate for Jimmie Johnson, who was unable to refire his car afterwards and required a push start – the second time the 48 had proved problematic today – but no lasting harm was done.

Of course, everyone used the opportunity to pit – and with dark clouds building once again, with only a little over thirty laps to go to half distance and a valid race if red flagged, it looked as though it could well prove to be the “money stop”. No one was taking any chances with tactics like two tyres this time: it was serious. Kyle Busch was once again fastest off pit lane ahead of Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Juan Montoya and Joey Logano. Vickers had dropped to 8th as a result of his stop.

The restart was held off as rain hit the outskirts of the race complex, and the yellow finally went red on lap 175 – 25 laps shy of a valid race distance. The cars returned to pit lane and got covered up with plastic, although the drivers were being told to stay inside them; the fear was that another strong thunder shower was less than 10 miles away from the circuit.

This time it was over half an hour before the green came out again and we got back to racing. And everyone was going for is, now assuming that half distance would be the de facto race length and it was only 20 laps away. Johnson was fast now and set after Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards also battling Kasey Kahne for third and was looking quietly confident and significantly improved. Meanwhile Juan Montoya was finding his car getting tight and dropped back, and Kurt Busch found a vibration problem so severe that he was forced to pit under green on lap 194, which put him a lap down.

Lap 200! Half distance, and a valid race. Kyle led Johnson, Kahne and Edwards.

As the green flag stint wore on, Busch and Johnson again started to fade under sustained running, Kyle getting very sideways on lap 220 as Kasey Kahne emerged as the fastest man on track and was catching the number 18 in leaps and bounds. Before he could pounce, however, there was the sixth caution – once again for rain. All of the leaders (somewhat surprisingly) opted to pit rather than try and stay out and retain track position: clearly the weather radars weren’t suggesting a race-ending shower at this point. But David Reutimann, Ryan Newman, and Robbie Gordon did all stay out, with Card Edwards fastest out of pit lane in 4th followed by Brian Vickers and then Kyle Busch, who had opted to take four tyres this time around.

But was pitting the right move? The minutes ticked by … and rain came down heavier … the track went from “damp” to “we lost it” and the jet driers were recalled until the rain abated. Everyone stood around, not knowing whether to celebrate and pack up, or prepare for another 170+ laps. Lots of mixed emotions; but the stands were emptying, as spectators had to pack up and head for home after the holiday weekend. Time was running out.

The weather was also closing in: whatever clear spells the radar data had been showing were consistently failing to show up. The rain fell, abated enough to bring out the jet dryers, only for the rain to fall again and cause the jet dryers to lose the battle and have to return to base to refuel. It was an increasingly frustrating and fruitless exercise, and the only person happy about it all was David Reutimann who was increasingly looking like he had stolen it from long-time leader Kyle Busch, all because of the decision to pit or not to pit. There was a sense that NASCAR weren’t happy with someone coming from no where to fluke a win either, and that was part of the reason they were working so hard to restart the race and get at least a few last laps in so that a lucky pit stop call wasn’t the final decider of the race.

But as valiantly as they tried to turn back the tide of showers, they were facing a losing battle and just had to accept the twist of fate that had put Reutimann out front at the vital moment. Just before six thirty local time, NASCAR finally called the race: it was indeed David Reutimann’s victory. The long national nightmare of the terminally rain-delayed 50th Coca-Cola 600 was finally over, and Reutimann was rewarded for his gamble with his first ever Sprint Cup win.

It might have been the shortest race in the event’s history in terms of mileage, but in terms of how much time they tried running it for it must have been one of the longest NASCAR events of all time, over 24 hours from scheduled start to final declaration. It made the Le Mans 24 look like a sprint race: it had been exhausting and not really satisfying, but it certainly hadn’t been forgettable!

Race results

FIN ST  CAR  DRIVER              MAKE       PTS/BNS LAPS
1   21  00   David Reutimann     Toyota     190/5   227 
2   1   39   Ryan Newman         Chevrolet  175/5   227 
3   37  7    Robby Gordon        Toyota     170/5   227 
4   19  99   Carl Edwards        Ford       160/0   227 
5   8   83   Brian Vickers       Toyota     160/5   227 
6   2   18   Kyle Busch          Toyota     160/10  227 
7   6   9    Kasey Kahne         Dodge      146/0   227 
8   9   42   Juan Montoya        Chevrolet  142/0   227 
9   14  20   Joey Logano *       Toyota     143/5   227 
10  30  17   Matt Kenseth        Ford       134/0   227 
11  13  11   Denny Hamlin        Toyota     130/0   227 
12  20  96   Bobby Labonte       Ford       127/0   227 
13  5   48   Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet  129/5   227 
14  3   24   Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet  121/0   227 
15  10  21   Bill Elliott        Ford       118/0   227 
16  26  77   Sam Hornish Jr.     Dodge      115/0   227 
17  4   5    Mark Martin         Chevrolet  112/0   227 
18  18  82   Scott Speed *       Toyota     109/0   227 
19  28  14   Tony Stewart        Chevrolet  106/0   227 
20  16  16   Greg Biffle         Ford       103/0   227 
21  33  26   Jamie McMurray      Ford       100/0   227 
22  35  12   David Stremme       Dodge      97/0    227 
23  12  1    Martin Truex Jr.    Chevrolet  94/0    227 
24  34  6    David Ragan         Ford       91/0    227 
25  40  31   Jeff Burton         Chevrolet  88/0    227 
26  11  187  Joe Nemechek        Toyota     85/0    227 
27  23  47   Marcos Ambrose      Toyota     82/0    227 
28  29  171  David Gilliland     Chevrolet  79/0    227 
29  25  66   Dave Blaney         Toyota     81/5    227 
30  31  98   Paul Menard         Ford       73/0    227 
31  39  55   Michael Waltrip     Toyota     75/5    227 
32  15  19   Elliott Sadler      Dodge      67/0    227 
33  38  44   A.J. Allmendinger   Dodge      64/0    227 
34  36  07   Casey Mears         Chevrolet  61/0    227 
35  42  43   Reed Sorenson       Dodge      58/0    227 
36  24  33   Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet  55/0    227 
37  17  2    Kurt Busch          Dodge      52/0    227 
38  27  88   Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Chevrolet  49/0    225 
39  43  36   Scott Riggs         Toyota     51/5    225 
40  41  34   Tony Raines         Chevrolet  48/5    225 
41  22  29   Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet  40/0    224 
42  32  113  Max Papis *         Toyota     37/0    219 
43  7   09   Mike Bliss          Dodge      34/0    43  
* Denotes Rookie 

Sprint Cup standings

POS +/- DRIVER               PTS   BEHIND ST  P  W  T5 T10
1   --  Jeff Gordon          1722  Leader 12  0  1  6  8
2   --  Tony Stewart         1678  -44    12  0  0  5  8
3   --  Kurt Busch           1598  -124   12  0  1  3  6
4   --  Jimmie Johnson       1594  -128   12  0  1  5  7
5   --  Denny Hamlin         1575  -147   12  0  0  2  4
6   +1  Kyle Busch           1540  -182   12  1  3  4  5
7   +1  Ryan Newman          1538  -184   12  1  0  4  6
8   -2  Jeff Burton          1472  -250   12  0  0  2  5
9   +1  Matt Kenseth         1460  -262   12  1  2  3  5
10  -1  Greg Biffle          1448  -274   12  0  0  3  6
11  +1  Carl Edwards         1431  -291   12  0  0  2  5
12  -1  Mark Martin          1428  -294   12  3  2  3  6
===== CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS ====
13  +2  David Reutimann      1422  -300   12  1  1  2  3
14  --  Juan Montoya         1397  -325   12  1  0  0  4
15  +1  Kasey Kahne          1351  -371   12  0  0  1  3
16  +1  Brian Vickers        1348  -374   12  2  0  2  5
17  -4  Clint Bowyer         1319  -403   12  0  0  3  4
18  +1  Martin Truex Jr.     1238  -484   12  1  0  0  3
19  -1  Dale Earnhardt Jr.   1231  -491   12  0  0  1  3
20  --  Marcos Ambrose       1213  -509   12  0  0  1  2
21  +3  Jamie McMurray       1168  -554   12  0  0  0  3
22  --  Casey Mears          1165  -557   12  0  0  0  1
23  -2  Kevin Harvick        1149  -573   12  0  0  2  2
24  -1  Reed Sorenson        1148  -574   12  0  0  0  1
25  +5  Joey Logano*         1145  -577   12  0  0  0  3
26  +1  David Stremme        1136  -586   12  0  0  0  0
27  +2  Bobby Labonte        1134  -588   12  0  0  1  1
28  -2  Elliott Sadler       1126  -596   12  0  0  1  1
29  -4  A.J. Allmendinger    1123  -599   12  0  0  1  2
30  +1  Sam Hornish Jr.      1113  -609   12  0  0  0  2
31  -3  Michael Waltrip      1092  -630   12  0  0  0  1
32  --  David Ragan          1089  -633   12  0  0  0  1
33  --  Paul Menard          1030  -692   12  0  0  0  0
34  --  Robby Gordon         1017  -705   12  0  0  1  1
35  --  Scott Speed*         865   -857   11  0  0  1  1
36  --  John Andretti        743   -979   10  0  0  0  0
37  --  David Gilliland      728   -994   11  0  0  0  0
38  --  Regan Smith          573   -1149  6   0  0  0  0
39  +2  Joe Nemechek         499   -1223  9   0  0  0  0
40  -1  Brad Keselowski      479   -1243  4   0  1  1  2
41  -1  Aric Almirola        451   -1271  7   0  0  0  0
42  --  Scott Riggs          445   -1277  8   0  0  0  0
43  --  Dave Blaney          379   -1343  9   0  0  0  0
44  +3  Bill Elliott         346   -1376  4   0  0  0  0
45  +1  Max Papis*           317   -1405  5   0  0  0  0
46  -2  Travis Kvapil        292   -1430  4   0  0  0  0
47  -2  Jeremy Mayfield      288   -1434  5   0  0  0  0
48  +3  Tony Raines          170   -1552  4   0  0  0  0
49  --  Mike Bliss           157   -1565  4   0  0  0  0
50  -2  Todd Bodine          123   -1599  3   0  0  0  0
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