(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 bringing setting up a two-lap shootout for the 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 to claim his 31st career win.

Not only was the race the longest in distance but it started on Sunday and finished on Monday as rain swept across the sprawling 1.5 mile super speedway after 50 laps, halting racing for nearly 90 minutes.

“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.

“I wish my wife was here, I wish my daughters were here. It’s a major, the Coke 600.

“We might not have been the fastest car today but wow did we grind this one out.”

Aside from a charity golf game between Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, NASCAR continued to have the North American sporting spotlight all to itself with other major sports looking at ways to return from the COVID-19 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 have been run under strict social-distancing regulations and in front of empty grandstands, providing an eerie backdrop at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which would normally be 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.

“Memorial Day is about lot more than racing but we’re able to do cool things like racing because of the freedoms provided by those willing to make those sacrifices,” said Keselowski.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Peter Rutherford

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
source: reuters.com

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