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AP photo by Gerry Broome / Chase Elliott races ahead of Brad Keselowski during the NASCAR Cup Series' Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C.

CONCORD, N.C. — The caution that sent the Coca-Cola 600 to overtime both continued Chase Elliott's bad run and gave Brad Keselowski a much-needed break.

Keselowski is in a contract year during a NASCAR season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Business was closed for 10 weeks, meaning zero movement between Keselowski and Team Penske.

The first driver to give motorsports titan Roger Penske a NASCAR championship — first in the second-tier Xfinity Series in 2010, and then, finally, a Cup Series crown in 2012 — has been idling all year. Then a caution with two laps remaining at Charlotte Motor Speedway cluttered Elliott's clear path to the win and gave Keselowski an opening.

Elliott pitted, and Keselowski's new crew chief, Jeremy Bullins, called for his driver to stay on track, cycle into the lead and try to outmuscle seven-time season champion Jimmie Johnson in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.

"We just committed to taking the front row and take a shot at the restart," Bullins said. "Not many people I'd rather have in that situation than Brad."

Keselowski got a terrific launch, cleared Johnson and pulled away for the Memorial Day victory in a race that started Sunday evening, was delayed by rain and wound up finishing in overtime and after midnight. Indianapolis 500 victories by Will Power in 2018 and Simon Pagenaud in 2019, paired with Keselowski's steal in the Coca-Cola 600, gave Penske three consecutive Memorial Day weekend wins.

Now Keselowski returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a Wednesday night Cup Series clash and a shot at consecutive victories. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and then Keselowski have won the top circuit's three races since the season resumed.

Bullins is bringing a new Ford built by Team Penske. This is a big stretch for the No. 2 team to prove it should remain intact beyond this season. The financial losses during the pandemic will likely cause yet another driver salary reset and Keselowski, the only Cup Series champion available, is probably at the highest end of free agent salaries.

Roger Penske said the pandemic has prevented any meetings with Keselowski.

Keselowski believes he and Bullins are settling in well after four races to start the season, the shutdown and what will be four races in 11 days. Bullins previously worked with Keselowski in the Xfinity Series and said the foundation is strong.

"There's always been a good trust and good relationship with him," Bullins said. "I know where he's coming from. I feel like we understand each other well. We've always worked together well. It was kind of like we hit the ground running again.

"It took a couple races to figure out the feel that he needed in the cars, what we needed to do better for him. I feel like we've been getting a lot closer with that every week."

As for Elliott, sooner or later he is going to get a break based solely on the way his Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet team is performing.

Elliott was crashed by Joe Gibbs Racing star Kyle Busch on the final lap of last Wednesday night's rain-shortened Cup Series event at Darlington Raceway as he tried to seize the lead. Then he had the Coca-Cola 600 wrapped up until teammate William Byron brought out a caution with two laps remaining.

Even though the leader all night clearly benefited from clean air, Elliott not only pitted from the lead but took four tires for a lengthier pit stop. It dropped him to 11th on the restart with just two laps remaining, and he worked his way to third. He was later scored second when another Hendrick teammate, Johnson, was disqualified because his car failed inspection after the race.

Elliott was terse after his second defeat in four days.

"You just make the best decision you can based on the information you have," Elliott said. "When you are leading the race like that, people behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. That was the situation we were put in."

Both Keselowski and Busch could empathize with Elliott's heartbreak at Charlotte. Keselowski spoke with Elliott as the two switched spots in front of a laptop during the video news conference after the 600; Busch went to Elliott's car on pit road immediately after the race.

"I felt bad for him," Busch said. "He's taken it a heck of a lot better than I ever have. I certainly was never very good at disappointing races. He's doing good, and (I) just told him to keep going forward and go get the next one."

Elliott and his Hendrick team have been very strong through the first three Cup Series races back. Elliott finished fourth at the first Darlington race, then was in position to win the next two races. Teammates Byron, Johnson and Alex Bowman have also fared well, showing the organization was prepared after the shutdown.

Elliott's team has been the most consistent late in races, though, and Wednesday brings another chance for the driver to finally get his first win of the season.

As for Busch's JGR teammate Hamlin, the reigning Daytona 500 champion and the winner last Wednesday at Darlington returns to Charlotte with three new crew members after a costly team penalty. Tungsten fell off Hamlin's car on a pace lap before the Coca-Cola 600, an infraction that draws an automatic four-race suspension for the crew chief, car chief and engineer.

The replacement crew will be thrown into the fire. These return races are being done in one-day shows without practice, and so far qualifying was only held for the 600. Wednesday night's race is just 310 miles, a breeze compared to Sunday at Charlotte, when overtime pushed the race to 607.5 miles, the longest in NASCAR history.

"Obviously, you've got a shorter distance to accomplish what you need," Hamlin said. "Tire and fuel mileage strategy will be different, and we'll have shorter stages to work within. This one will be more of a sprint than a marathon."

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