(Reuters) – Brad Keselowski won the Coca Cola 600 in a shootout on Sunday as NASCAR did its best to fill the sporting void created by the novel coronavirus shutdown with its longest ever race.
May 24, 2020, Concord, NC, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski (2) celebrates winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Gerry Broome/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network
The 600-miler on the U.S. Memorial Day weekend was already the longest race on the NASCAR calendar but on Sunday it went even longer after William Byron’s spin with five laps to go set up a two-lap shootout for victory.
Deciding not to pit, Keselowski stayed on the track to move to the front of the pack and bolted clear on the restart, holding off a challenge from seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who was later disqualified after the post-race technical inspection.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports team mate Chase Elliott, who had pitted on the final caution, was moved up to second place.
The race, which started on Sunday and finished on Monday, was halted for nearly 90 minutes after rain swept across the 1.5 mile super speedway after 50 laps.
“I feel like I’ve thrown this race away a handful of times and I thought we were going to lose it today,” said Keselowski.
“We might not have been the fastest car today but wow did we grind this one out.”
Aside from a charity golf match pitting Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, NASCAR continued to have the sporting spotlight all to itself as the NBA, MLB and NHL continue to look for ways to return from the shutdown.
The Coca Cola 600 was the first of four races on four consecutive days at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with the Xfinity Series hitting the track on Monday followed by a truck series race on Tuesday and the Cup drivers back on Wednesday.
All races are being run under strict social-distancing regulations and in front of empty grandstands.
That provided an eerie backdrop at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which on Sunday would normally have been packed with fans honoring military personnel who died serving in the U.S. armed forces.
With the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 expected to soon exceed 100,000, NASCAR also used Sunday’s race to honor frontline workers and others battling the pandemic. Midway through the 400 lap race drivers pulled onto pit road and stopped for a moment of silence.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, additional reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford