Going into Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, most in the garage expected the Roush Fenway Racing cars to dominate the event. David Ragan had won the pole and the Sprint Showdown the week before, Carl Edwards easily won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and Matt Kenseth beat teammates Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Saturday's Nationwide Series Top Gear 300.
Despite the dominance Roush Fenway Racing showed the last two weeks in Charlotte, it was Richard Childress Racing that was hoisting the trophy and celebrating in victory lane at the end of the night.
Roush Fenway Racing: 2nd, 13th, 14th, 16th
Throughout the garage, it was clear the Roush cars were the ones to beat, and once the green flag dropped that proved to be the case. In the first 300-miles, Kenseth and Edwards dominated the top spots. Edwards was the first of the Roush cars to find the lead, but it did not take long for Kenseth and Ragan to challenge.
Once Kenseth took the lead from Ragan on Lap 108, the No. 17 Ford set sail. Kenseth went on to lead five times for a total of 103 laps. Once the race transitioned into night and other teams began using varying pit strategies, Kenseth and Edwards fell to the middle of the pack.
Kenseth was able to recover in the closing laps and make a charge to the front, but fell short on fuel and was forced to pit road with eight laps to go finishing the night in 14th. Edwards, on the other hand, was never able to fully recover from being mired deep in the pack. Saving enough fuel to the end, Edwards was slowed by the incident on the final restart and finished 16th.
Greg Biffle struggled for much of the early stages of the 600-mile event as his cooling system was malfunctioning. With temperatures soaring, Biffle's temper flared as the team scrambled to keep their driver cool under the helmet. Once the issue was resolved, the No. 16 Ford came to life and was in a position to win in the closing laps. Leading the race when Jimmie Johnson's engine failure brought out the final caution, Biffle was forced to pit for fuel and finished 13th.
One of the faster cars all race long, Ragan was able hit pit road under the final caution and make the right moves when Kasey Kahne ran out of gas on the green-white-checkered restart. Able to avoid the incident, Ragan went on to finish the night in second – a career best.
Richard Childress Racing: 1st, 15th, 21st, 29th
For most of the Coca-Cola 600 the RCR cars were quiet and never really made a charge. It was only in the closing laps that Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer were able to have a chance.
Kevin Harvick battled an ill-handling car for much of the early stages of the race, as did teammate Clint Bowyer. Jeff Burton took two tires under the first caution of the day to lead laps, but the call backfired as the No. 31 seemed to fall back through the field almost immediately. Paul Menard struggled through an injury on his right foot, spinning the car on Lap 241.
When the caution came at the end of the race, Burton and Menard were able to help Harvick save fuel. As he shut the engine off in the No. 29 Chevrolet, Burton and Menard pushed Harvick down the track.
Harvick was able to save enough fuel and capitalize when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others ran out of gas, taking his third win of the season. Burton took the final restart in sixth, but was turned by Carl Edwards when Kahne ran out of fuel.
Joe Gibbs Racing: 3rd, 10th, 32nd
In the opening stages of Sunday's race, Kyle Busch appeared to be the only car that could challenge the Roush cars for the lead. The No. 18 Toyota was out front twice for 55 laps, but two single car incidents ruined Busch's night. Working through traffic and trying to keep pace with Kenseth, Busch pushed the car too far and lost it. The second incident sent the car behind the wall and ended Busch's night in 32nd.
Denny Hamlin was also a contender, however an engine issue kept the No. 11 Toyota from reaching its full potential. Complaining that the motor would die off at the end of the straightaways, crew chief Mike Ford determined something was clogging the jets in the carburetor. Catching a late-race caution, Hamlin brought the car to pit road and the crew changed carburetors and kept the No. 11 on the lead lap. With full power under the hood, Hamlin made a charge in the closing laps, but ran out of gas on the white flag lap to finish 10th.
Quiet most of the day, Joey Logano received the free pass twice and was able to make the right moves on the final restart. Following David Ragan through the chaos, Logano finished the night in third – by far his best finish of the year.
Hendrick Motorsports: 7th, 20th, 28th, 34th
Throughout the night, the only two Hendrick Motorsports cars to make noise up front were Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. Mark Martin was taken out in a wreck with David Gilliland on Lap 303, and Jeff Gordon was never really a factor.
Earnhardt Jr. had a strong car throughout the event and was in position to lead when Kahne ran out of fuel. Taking the white flag in the top spot, the tank ran dry for Earnhardt Jr. as he headed down the backstretch. Losing the lead to Harvick, Earnhardt Jr. coasted across the finish line in seventh.
It was definitely an up and down day for the No. 48 team. Although he failed to lead a lap, Johnson had a strong car, but the team once again struggled on pit road. Running in the 10th spot with four laps to go, the engine under the hood of the No. 48 let go, relegating them to a 28th place finish.