Larson gives Hendrick record-breaking win at Coca-Cola 600
By STEVE REED
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) The first thing Rick Hendrick thought about as Kyle Larson crossed the finish line to win the Coca-Cola 600 was April 29, 1984.
That's when Hendrick won for the first time as a NASCAR Cup Series owner when Geoff Bodine took the Sovran Bank 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Little did Hendrick know that 37 years later he would become the winningest owner in NASCAR Cup Series history. Larson's dominating win at Charlotte Motor Speedway gave Hendrick Motorsports a record-setting 269th win, passing Petty Enterprises.
"Unbelievable," Hendrick said. "I can't get in my brain around it right now."
"With nearly 40 years of excellence, Hendrick Motorsports has set the gold standard for race team success," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France. "Rick Hendrick has already cemented his legacy as a NASCAR Hall of Famer, and now adds another incredible accomplishment to an exemplary NASCAR career."
Hendrick said he's glad to have the record behind him, while quickly praising Richard Petty for his role in NASCAR.
"Richard Petty is the king of NASCAR and he has done so much for this sport," Hendrick said.
Hendrick called it "pretty neat" that Larson broke the record driving the No. 5 car - the same number on Bodine's car several decades ago.
"It feels great to be the guy to help Mr. H break that record," Larson said.
Hendrick said he didn't care which of his four Cup drivers won Sunday - as long as one of them did.
And it seemed all four of them had that chance.
It was an impressive night for Hendrick Motorsports with all four drivers finishing in the top five - Chase Elliott was second, William Byron fourth and Alex Bowman fifth.
Kyle Busch was third for Joe Gibbs Racing.
It also was the sixth win in 16 races this season for Hendrick Motorsports - and this one wasn't even close.
Larson, who joined Hendrick this season, ended six years of struggles at Charlotte, leading 328 of 400 laps and winning four stages.
Larson's previous best finish at Charlotte was fifth in 2016 and he had only one top-10 finish at the Coca-Cola 600. Larson dominated most of the race, becoming the first driver since Busch in 2018 to sweep every stage. It gave Larson a series-high 10 stage wins this year.
"He is an awesome talent as you see by some of the moves he makes," Hendrick said. "And he wants to win and is super dedicated. He is all business."
Busch seemed resigned to the fact he wasn't going catch Larson even with about 100 laps remaining.
When asked after the first three stages by Fox Sports commentators what he had to do catch the leader, Busch joked "I'm going to have to wreck him - they're too fast."
In a year of parity in which 11 drivers won in the first 14 races, Larson became only the third driver with multiple wins this season. He also won at Las Vegas.
Martin Truex Jr., a two-time winner of the Coca-Cola 600, was one of the favorites to win the race but his hopes ended when his left front tire went completely flat with 60 laps remaining and his pit crew struggled to remove the tire from the rim, ruining any chances of winning.
More than 50,000 fans attended the event after COVID restrictions were lifted about a week before the race.
Two-time heavyweight champion boxer Tyson Fury and singer Pitbull were in attendance. Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey served as the honorary pace car driver and Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks were the grand marshals.
Hendrick has won six of the 15 races run this season. It was the 12th career Coca-Cola 600 win for Hendrick Motorsports, but the organization's first since since Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag in 2014.
Denny Hamlin, who won seven races last season, continues to search for his first victory of the year with 16 races in the books. Hamlin simply hasn't had much success at Charlotte Motor Speedway, failing to register a Cup Series win here in 30 Cup Series races. He finished seventh.
"I'm doing all I can, but what I got is not good," Hamlin said on the radio with about 70 laps to go.
NASCAR heads to California for the Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway next Sunday for a return to road racing.
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Updated May 30, 2021