Kevin Harvick can now add the label of survivor to his resume after winning a wild crash filled and bizarre Coca-Cola 600 Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Harvick avoided multicar accidents and even a TV cable that took out many of the favorites to assume command of NASCAR’s longest race in the closing laps.
Harvick took the lead from Kasey Kahne who was the dominate driver for most of the marathon event that saw four red flags and eight cautions. The key to victory came on the final caution with 18 to go when Kahne who led a race high 161 laps to that point, elected to stay out. The field behind him, including Harvick, came in with Harvick taking only two tires and coming out second.
“It was definitely our race to lose, especially those last hundred laps,” Kahne said. “We just thought that some of the guys would stay out. I think there’s three cars that just pitted within the last couple laps, five or six laps, just felt like they’d stay out and that would be a big enough buffer to someone who had two or four tires that we could get away. Didn’t happen.”
On the restart it took only two laps for Harvick to pass Kahne and from there he was able to stretch out his lead and score his second win of the season and his second at Charlotte.
Kahne and Kyle Busch seemed to be the class of the field early on but a bizarre incident on lap 123 soon brought the race to a halt. A nylon rope used as part of a remote camera system came loose and fell onto the track. Busch, Marcos Ambrose and several others drivers received damage from the rope. NASCAR was forced to put the field under a red flag and after a few minutes debate while track crews cleaned up the rope, decided to restart the field, but line them up according to their positions prior to the incident.
After a ten minute stoppage the field was then taken for one lap, then allowed to pit. NASCAR then put out the red flag again but told crews they could perform whatever repairs were needed.
“Hell, the first time I drove by I said, Hell, my career is over, my eyes have taken a crap,” Harvick joked. “I saw this streak go by me. What in the hell was that? I always have this thing with my eyes. It’s one of the biggest things we have as drivers. You got to believe in your eyes. I tell myself, You got to believe what you saw.”
“I’m glad that NASCAR was able to let the guys fix their cars that were involved in it to try to get back to where they were to be competitive.”
After 16 minutes the race was restarted and Kyle Busch again took the lead with a battered but patched up Toyota.
Busch’s quest for glory ended just past the halfway point. Despite the crew making heroic repairs after damage from the falling TV cable, the engine in his Toyota expired on lap 257.
“I commend NASCAR first of all for taking the initiative and letting us all repair our damaged cars from the issue that we had earlier in the race,” Busch said. “Appreciate that, but from there I thought we were about a fourth or fifth place car tonight. We had been running first, second or third most of the evening, but just catastrophic engine failure — it seems to be that time of year again.”
Matt Kenseth took control and would go on to lead a total of 112 laps. But his race began to unravel on lap 274 when he stayed out while the rest of the field pitted. The team would later blame the miscue on a miscommunication. Kenseth was then forced to pit off sequence and found himself in 12th on a restart. On lap 332 Kenseth’s hopes for a win took a big hit when he was swept up in a crash involving Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya. Kenseth was able to continue but lost three laps and finished the night 15th.
“We just pitted a little bit different and it was still going to work out and we were still in second and we pitted a little early,” Kenseth said. “In hindsight, I probably should have mentioned it to Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief), but it sat there for three or four laps. I just
didn’t think they’d throw a caution for it and then the lap after we pitted they threw a caution for it, so it’s just the way it works every once and a while.”
As the laps wound down it seemed to be Kahne’s race especially after surviving another red flag period for a seven car accident on lap 326. It wasn’t to be however as the final pit call left him with old tires and Harvick with two tires and the win.
“Harvick started with two, he held it flat,” Kahne said. “I got a little free, had to back off the gas. When I went back down, he was in front of me. That was the end of our race. Just made sure we got second from there.”
Third place finisher Kurt Busch had an eventful night losing power during the third red flag period. He had give up the lead and be pushed by a wrecker to the pits where the crew changed the battery. Denny Hamlin ran a quiet race avoiding trouble to come home fourth, while Joey Logano finished fifth.
Ryan Newman had one of his better finishes of the season in sixth, with his boss Tony Stewart just behind in seventh. Clint Bowyer and his Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. rounded on the top ten.
Points leader Johnson saw his lead shrink to 32 points after his 22nd place finish. Other notables included defending series champion Brad Keselowski who took blame for an accident that involved Dancia Patrick on lap 318. Patrick would continue and go on to finish 29th, Keselowski finished the night in the garage and in 36th spot.
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