CONCORD, N.C. – Brad Keselowski charged forward from 21st to win the opening stage of Sunday night’s 60th annual Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Keselowski, who is bidding to give owner Roger Penske a Memorial Day weekend sweep of the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 for the first time in team history, led 14 of the first 100 laps en route to his third stage win of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The Michigan native bested Kevin Harvick on a restart with five laps to go in the stage and never looked back, crossing the line in front by .405 seconds with his No. 2 Miller Lite Patriotic Ford Mustang.
“We had good pit stops and had a good couple restarts there,” said Keselowski during the stage break. “That’s a really good effort by this team so far, but we’re a little worried about having enough tires later on with all the cautions we had during that first segment. We’re happy, though. This is a good start.”
Denny Hamlin topped Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a final-lap duel for second, with Chase Elliott’s Chevrolet coming in fourth behind the two Toyotas and Harvick fading to fifth in another Ford.
William Byron, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney completed the points-scoring drivers inside the top 10 at the first stage break.
The stage was slowed by a race-record five caution flags in the first 100 laps, kicked off by a blown right-front tire for Erik Jones with 22 laps complete.
A right-front tire failure for Matt DiBenedetto followed on the 48th lap, with Martin Truex Jr. tagging the wall from the lead on lap 73 for the third yellow of the night.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s spin down the frontstretch on lap 85 and Daniel Hemric’s brush with the outside wall on lap 92 were the reasons for the final two yellow flags in the opening stage.
Kyle Busch led the most laps in the first stage of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600, out front for 29 circuits.
At 94 degrees, Sunday’s race is the third-hottest Charlotte race day on record, tied with the inaugural running of NASCAR’s longest race in 1960 – when it debuted as the World 600.