CONCORD, N.C. — Fantastic pit work by Denny Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew led the Virginia native to the victory in Stage 3 of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin, who took advantage of a lightning-fast four-tire stop to jump up four spots exiting pit road, drove by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a restart with three laps to go after Stenhouse spun the tires.
From there, the Virginia native went on to win the stage by .187 seconds over Kyle Busch, leading a sweep of the top five spots by Toyota drivers.
“We’ve actually been pretty good (on) every run except for the first run,” admitted Hamlin, whose stage win was his second of the season. “We had a speeding penalty … we got in the wall and had some damage so we had to fix that. It’s just taken us all race to get to where we really belong, probably.”
Busch finished second in the third quarter after winning Stage 1, ahead of Matt Kenseth, Stage 1 winner Martin Truex Jr. and rookie Erik Jones.
The most notable moment in Stage 3 occurred on lap 246, when Ty Dillon blew the motor in his No. 13 Chevrolet and dropped fluid on the track at about the same time Kasey Kahne had a mechanical issue on the backstretch and socked the wall with his No. 5 Chevrolet.
Kevin Harvick spun off Turn 4 as a result of the oil from Dillon’s car, while Jimmie Johnson snuck onto pit road just before the caution came out and was able to inherit the lead as a result.
Johnson led the field back to green on the 253rd round, but Truex blasted past on the outside and opened up a two-second gap as the second half of Stage 3 wore on.
Kyle Busch then surged by Johnson for the runner-up position on lap 284, holding that spot as Johnson fell back.
A blown tire on Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Target Chevrolet drew the caution flag with eight laps to go, setting Larson up for his worst finish of the year and leading to the three-lap dash that completed the stage.
Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Daniel Suarez, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10 and all scored bonus points towards the regular-season championship.
With his worn tires, Stenhouse faded to 20th after not pitting prior to the stage-ending restart.
Of note, Truex clinched the most laps led (198 of 300 so far) during Stage 3, tying Darrell Waltrip’s record of leading the most laps in three-straight Coca-Cola 600s.
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Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
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