Coca-Cola 600: Winners and Losers

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Coca-Cola 600:  Winners and Losers
John Harrelson/Getty Images

On Sunday evening, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series ran its longest race of the season. With the transition from daylight to evening to complete darkness, the race is even longer than its 600 mile length, as it puts crew chiefs on the spot to make the correct adjustment for the changing conditions.

Check out the winners and losers of the Coca-Cola 600.

 

Winners

Kurt Busch

For the second time in three years, the All-Star Race winner went on to win the Coca-Cola 600. Kasey Kahne did it in 2008 and now Kurt Busch has done it in 2010. Unlike Kahne two years ago, Busch dominated this race, leading more than 200 laps.

Busch took quick control of the race, starting on the outside pole and making his way to the lead by lap 10.

Busch had the best car on the long runs and the short runs, while crew chief Steve Addington made all the right adjustments throughout the night.

On the final stop of the day, three cars stayed out while Busch and everyone else pitted for tires.  It didn’t take long for Busch to get back to the front and pull away from second-place Jamie McMurray.

At Pocono Raceway, Busch has an average finish of 13.6 and he has led at least one lap in his last three visits to the track. Busch is not known for his flat track skills but he is more than capable of winning on Sunday.

Points: sixth

 

Jamie McMurray

If there is one driver to watch in the next couple months, it would be McMurray. His team has had fast race cars on a week-to-week basis but not the results to show for it.

Just hours after his boss Chip Ganassi won the Indianapolis 500, McMurray nearly pulled the double and win the Coke 600.

McMurray made his way from 27th to the top five in quick order.

McMurray was challenging for the lead by halfway. As the track conditions changed, they were able to adjust. Late in the race, he passed Busch but a caution saw most of the leaders hit pit road.

On the final restart, Busch pulled away from McMurray, as he settled for another runner-up finish.

McMurray's statistics at Pocono are not very impressive; in fact, they're surprisingly bad. He has an average finish of 19th and only two top 10 finishes.

McMurray has only led three laps and those have come in the last three trips to the track.

Points: 15th

 

Paul Menard

Early on this season, I picked Paul Menard to challenge for a spot in the top 12. Since his hot start early in the season, he has cooled off but Sunday night proved this team may not be out of it just yet.

Sunday’s 10th place finish capped off a very impressive run for Menard. After recent struggles, this team was one of the best Fords all race long. He started 33rd but as the sun began to set, this team got faster and faster.

They were never as good as Busch or McMurray late but not many were. Menard took tires late and worked his way back to eighth.

Menard is looking to continue the momentum at Pocono, but he will have some work to do. The key will be qualifying better than his average of 26.8.

His average finish is not much better at 29.3. He is one of the few double duty drivers traveling back and forth between the NASCAR Nationwide series and NSCS. It will be interesting to see if the travel has any effect on his performance on Sunday.

Points: 22nd

 

Losers

Juan Pablo Montoya

It was a year ago at this time that Juan Pablo Montoya announced that his team would make the Chase. After a plethora of consistent top 10 runs, his team accomplished just that. It's going to take a similar late charge this season, as Montoya is well behind the proverbial eight ball.

On lap 61, Montoya got loose and suffered damage to the front of his car. He hit pit road for fresh tires and then headed to the garage to make repairs.

They returned to race 68 laps down to scrounge for any points they could get. In the end, they crossed the stripe 38th out of 43 cars, not the performance they needed to start a comeback.

Pocono is a flat track, similar to the Brickyard and Martinsville, where Montoya has had previous success.

His numbers are not very impressive, with an average finish of 20.7. He finished second here in August and eighth here last June. If they want to make the Chase, they will have to turn it around here.

Points: 20th


Jimmie Johnson

I've read numerous different articles where the writers aren't sure whether to call Jimmie Johnson's recent struggles trouble or just a run of bad luck. For the second time in as many weeks, Johnson found himself not finishing the race.

If Busch had the best car all day long, Johnson was not far off until a spring rubber adjustment made the car very loose.

So loose that he smacked the wall hard and forced Denny Hamlin to the grass, damaging the front of his car and effectively ending both of their days.

Johnson made repairs but the car was never the same. He then spun and destroyed the front of his car on lap 272. They went to the garage for repairs and were soon back on track, only to finish a disappointing 37th.

Johnson's track record at Pocono is not much different than it is at any other speedway; simply put, he's pretty darn good. His average finish is 9.8, while two wins, five top fives, and 10 top 10s prove Johnson can get it done.

After weeks of people talking about what’s wrong, I think Johnson will do exactly what he did at Dover, that being to dominate.

Points: seventh


Jeff Burton

In a rare show of anger after a race, Jeff Burton made it clear to Kyle Busch and his competitors that he is not taking anything from anybody.

Right or wrong, Burton is left wondering what could have been Sunday night.

He had a top 10 run going all day long, but didn't have a good enough car to win the race. He ran in the top 15 for most of the race, but during the final restart where Burton, Busch, and Clint Bowyer went three wide, Busch drifted up the track and cut Burton’s left rear tire.

Busch did not have anywhere to go with Bowyer right below him.

Burton made it clear that he won’t put up with Busch’s aggressiveness.

Now he heads to Pocono where he has never won but has seven top five finishes and 15 top 10s. Can they avoid the late race mistakes at Pocono that have cost them already this season?

Points: eighth

 

Final Lap

Overall, Sunday's race went fairly according to plan. It is such a long race that there will always be comers and goers.

I think, in the end, we saw the teams that read the track right and made the right adjustments ride their pit crew to strong finishes.

Some guys knew adjustments alone would not get them better finishes so Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, and Mark Martin all gambled by staying out late.

It paid off, as they earned top 10 finishes. Again, they adjusted enough but didn’t have the car to contend for a win.

This weekend, we head to what many have tagged a “roval” at Pocono. It’s a flat racetrack that drives like a road course and really it’s the shape of a triangle so it’s not even oval.  I like Pocono because it is challenging and all three corners are different.

The team that can find the magic on those three corners usually ends up in victory lane. I would watch for Tony Stewart, who is the defending winner of this race. Also, keep an eye on Gordon, Montoya, and Sam Hornish Jr.  These drivers have excelled on flat tracks similar to Pocono like Indianapolis, Martinsville, and Phoenix.

The Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 presented by Target is Sunday at 1ET on TNT.

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