Kyle Larson, Donald Trump and ringing the Bell: A wild and stormy night at Coca-Cola 600

The Coca-Cola 600 turned into the Coca-Cola 373.5 on Sunday night, with stormy weather causing more than 200 miles to be trimmed off the back end of what is usually NASCAR’s longest race.

So the 65th running of the race was unusual in that respect. But it was odd well before that, given the day also included Donald Trump’s arrival and Kyle Larson’s “Will he or won’t he make it?” journey from Indianapolis.

The biggest victor of the day, though, was Christopher Bell, who was winning the race at Lap 249 when it got red-flagged due to lightning at about 9:30 p.m. Bell then waited it out along with everybody else until 11:30 p.m. as NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway tried to dry the track. The results weren’t ideal.

So then came NASCAR’s 11:30 p.m. statement, which read in full: “Due to inclement weather, high humidity and the likelihood of resuming action after 1 a.m. with the track-drying process, the race has been declared official. Christopher Bell is the winner of the 65th Coca-Cola 600.”

For the hardy race fans who waited out the rain delay, Bell’s win wasn’t popular (it was possible, though, because the race was more than halfway complete). The unpopularity wasn’t because of Bell so much as it was because those fans had stuck around for two hours with the hopes of seeing a couple more hours of racing.

So when Bell’s face was first shown at Victory Lane, they expressed their displeasure heartily enough for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to hear.

“I got booed out of the place,” Bell said afterward in his news conference.

But to be fair, Bell also dominated for a good bit of the race.

“It just feels like whenever I win these things, they have asterisks on them,” Bell said. “It’s still a win for me and the last two years, we’ve been really competitive in this event. So it’s not like we just lucked into this thing… We led laps. I passed for the lead. We had great pit stops. It was just 400 miles, instead of 600.”

Sunday night marked the second time Larson’s day had gotten messed up by bad weather — it was almost like he brought the storm with him. Larson landed at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 9:18 p.m., and by the time he had gotten out of the helicopter and to his pit stall, a few fat raindrops had started to fall. Larson put his helmet on and got ready to make the change with relief driver Justin Allgaier, only to see the race red-flagged because lightning was in the area.

Ultimately, Larson never turned a lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with his proposed double turning into an infield single. He did complete the Indy 500 earlier in the day in Indianapolis before his “planes-trains-automobiles” adventure to get to Charlotte and finished 18th. His relief driver Justin Allgaier in the meantime had a nice day at the Coke 600, keeping Larson’s car intact for the race and in the front half of the field. But Larson got all suited up and had nowhere to go.

Trump’s appearance was less affected by the weather. He arrived before the race began, with his plane first doing a flyover of the speedway at 4:30 p.m. He wore a red “Make America Great Again” cap. His visit marked the first time a sitting or former president had attended a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Once there, Trump spent most of his time hanging out with NASCAR team owner Richard Childress and didn’t publicly address the crowd or do anything much other than smile for photos and flash a lot of thumbs-up signs. Still, just showing up was a big deal to a lot of people. When Trump’s plane flew over the speedway, I was in the infield, and numerous fans struck up the chant of “USA! USA!” with a few also screaming, “Let’s go, Brandon!” Trump’s appearance also reminded everyone how important North Carolina is in the 2024 election, where N.C. is thought to once again be a swing state.

In the meantime, Bell was having another solid race. Although he’s not one of NASCAR’s biggest names, the 29-year-old Bell is far from a no-name. This was his eighth win in the NASCAR Cup series and his second of the 2024 season. In 2022, he made it into the Championship Four.

So he won it in the way no racer really dreams of winning — when he wasn’t even on the track anymore. Gibbs, who has played in front of a lot of crowds in both the NFL and NASCAR, understood the fans’ frustration.

“When you get a packed house like that, you’d like to see it go the whole way,” said Gibbs, referring to the sellout crowd that had packed Charlotte Motor Speedway.

But Bell had no intention of giving the race win back.

“We’ve really been in a slump the last couple of weeks,” Bell said. “So to come out here and have a banner day in such a high-profile, prestigious event is really big for us…. It was a much-needed day for sure.”