Denny Hamlin's resurgence continued in Charlotte. Perhaps Tony Stewart's has begun.
Driving the No. 11 Toyota, Hamlin finished the grueling 600-mile race in fourth place, giving him his second top-five in the two full races he's run since his return from a back injury earlier this season.
Joey Logano, who was searching for a spark, joined Hamlin in the top five by finishing fifth.
Ryan Newman finished in sixth place, but it was Tony Stewart making headlines by surging toward the front of the field late and picking up a seventh-place finish.
Stewart has been besieged by bad luck this season, and the driver had only one top-10 entering the Coca-Cola 600. A three-time Cup Series champion, Stewart could use the momentum from this race to make a strong bid for a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Wild-Card berth.
A roundup on the Coca-Cola Racing Family:
Denny Hamlin (No. 11)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Recap: Still nursing an injured back, Hamlin took extra precautions to ensure his pain would be tolerable during the grueling 600 miles at Charlotte. And by managing his pain, Hamlin managed expectations -- and then exceeded them. The driver finished fourth, led six laps, and moved three spots up the standings to 24th.
Quotable: "Yeah, we just could never hit it. We just hung around the top five, but the pit crew did an awesome job. Luckily, we got the pole and really made up some positions on pit road, so hats off to the pit crew. They stepped up big time today and proud of our whole FedEx Office team. We need solid runs like this. ? (My back) feels good. Definitely feel a lot better after this one -- I did Darlington -- really feel the same as I do after any other race. Proud of our effort. We didn't a have a winning car, but we had a fourth to sixth-place car and that's where we ended up."
His standing: Hamlin is 24th in the standings with 238 points.
Outlook: Hamlin has never won at Dover, and he finished 18th last year at the spring race. His best finish is fourth (twice), and he has just five top-10s in five starts. So his long-awaited win isn't likely to come this week, but Hamlin seems primed for a trip to Victory Lane soon. And he needs it -- he's 53 points behind 20th-place Tony Stewart. The two Wild-Card entrants to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup must finish at least 20th in the standings.
Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Recap: Logano does well in Charlotte, and he was coming off a strong run in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. All of that led to a fifth-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, continuing Logano's boom-or-bust season. He has four top-fives in 12 races, and four top-10s ? meaning he's either finished in the top five, or out of the top 10 all together. Still, with two top-fives in the past four points races, Logano may be back on track.
Quotable: "That was a long race, a really long race, but I think my guys did an awesome job coming from 31st up to fifth. I'm super-proud of them. The strategy and what was going on, I had no idea what was going on. I was just passing whoever was in front of me and going from there. I have such a great team and I'm so happy to be involved with all of Penske. I'm having a good time with it and I know in time that win is gonna come, but with a second in the All-Star Race and a fifth here tonight, we're proud of our efforts here at Charlotte and we'll go on to Dover, my favorite track, and hopefully get a win there."
His standing: Logano is 19th in the standings with 298 points.
Outlook: As you read above, Logano loves Dover. And why not? He has four top-10s in eight starts there, a better average than any track except for Charlotte -- and we saw how well he did at Charlotte the past two weeks.
Ryan Newman (No. 39)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Hello, Newman. The veteran driver of the No. 39 Chevrolet earned his second consecutive top-10, using some excellent pit strategy to finish sixth and reintroduce himself as a legitimate contender to make the Chase. A caution flag on Lap 327 sent drivers to pit road, and Newman was one of a handful of drivers to take two tires. That shot him into the top 10, and he stayed there for the rest of the race.
Quotable: "We had a really good Quicken Loans Chevrolet at the end of the race. If that yellow hadn't come out, we would have probably ended up third. We took two tires under caution and couldn't quite get back to where we were. That is a great comeback after going a lap down early, and considering where we were one week ago here for the All-Star Race. The Quicken Loans guys did a great job. Tony (Stewart) had a great run, too. It was a solid night for Stewart-Haas Racing."
His standing: Newman is 16th in the standings with 315 points.
Outlook: Newman is among a handful of drivers bunched in the standings. He's only nine points 13th-place Greg Biffle and 13 points behind 12th-place Aric Almirola. If he continues to stay out of trouble, his standing will only go up.
Tony Stewart (No. 14)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Stewart had his best finish of the season in Sunday's 600-miler, finishing seventh place. It's his second top-10 of the year, and his first since the second race of the season at Phoenix, where he finished eighth. Stewart's pit-road strategy was the biggest reason for his placing, and he also earned a bonus point due to leading six laps.
Quotable: "We finally got some stability in the car. One change there at the end of the race just made a huge, huge difference."
His standing: Stewart is 20th in the standings with 291 points.
Outlook: Now that's he in the top 20, 'Smoke' has dual goals -- first, to stay in the top 20. Second, to continue his top-10 streak and perhaps even earn a top-five -- or a win. Wins would do the most to solidify Stewart's Chase chances, and he'll have a chance to do that at Dover, where he's won twice and has 10 top-fives in 28 career starts.
Danica Patrick (No. 10)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Patrick was the only one of the three Stewart-Haas Racing drivers to not finish in the top 10. She may have had a top-20 finish, though, but a wreck with Brad Keselowski wrecked her night. With Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the inside and Keselowski on the outside of a three-wide row, Patrick was squeezed, and Keselowski later came down across her car (and apologized for the incident). She finished 29th after returning to the track following the wreck.
Quotable: "We obviously started from the back, and track position was really important here at Charlotte. We fought our way back to trying to be in a position to be on the lead lap. I felt like we were making real progress and starting to get the car to a place that was really good and had an accident, which is unfortunate because we were moving up. But there's nothing we can do about it now. We just need some luck."
Her standing: Patrick is 30th in the standings with 211 points.
Outlook: As is the case with so many tracks this season, Patrick has very little experience at Dover. In her one start last year, she finished 28th.
Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Recap: Although he doesn't have much to show for it, Biffle's team showed great resiliency Sunday night. His No. 16 Ford was smashed during a wreck that brought out a caution flag on Lap 259. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s engine blew up, which led to a four-car wreck. Biffle's team didn't hang it up, though, and returned to the track and gained a few positions to finish 31st, 65 laps down.
Quotable: Biffle was not available for comment after the race.
His standing: Biffle is 13th in the standings with 324 points.
Outlook: Biffle needs a break, any break. He's finished outside the top 10 for five consecutive races and has been worse than 30th in three of the past four races.
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