Kevin Harvick may have won the 54th Annual Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night, but all the talk around the barbeque grills on Monday will be about how NASCAR inadvertently stumbled into the world of odd and strange circumstances once again.
A single incident caused two red flags, the first lasting 10:40 and the second 16:22, sandwiched around a yellow, because a cable on the Fox CAMCAT snapped on lap 121 and fell on the track a causing a number of cars to run over it. It would lead to a little confusion, but ultimately the race was stopped at lap 126.
“Hell, the first time I drove by I said, ‘Damn, my career is just about over, my eyes have taken a crap.’ Harvick would joke. “I saw this black streak go by me and I said, ‘What in the hell was that?’ You know I always have this thing with my eyes because it’s one of the biggest things we have as drivers and I say you’ve got to believe what you saw. I came back the next time at the start-finish line and I was hoping it wasn’t my last race and when I got back there that black streak was still there. It was just a strange instance.”
Two cars, the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch and No. 9 Ford of Marcos Ambrose, suffered the kind of damage that was severe enough for NASCAR to give the two teams a reasonable amount of time to get back to competitive status. No driver was injured, but early reports said ten fans injured, were treated at the track and released, but three were transported to a hospital for observation and subsequently released.
Busch suffered major damage in two places on the right side after hitting the cable first before it caught Mark Martin in the No. 55 in the rear end. Unfortunately, Ambrose suffered a severed brake line. NASCAR did the best they could and gave the damaged vehicles 15 minutes to effect repairs and resumed the race, but not after letting Ambrose run five wide open laps, all alone, because he sat on pit row that long before the red flag came out.
As for the race, Kevin Harvick has been, and continues to be Mr. Where-did-he-come-from outlasting the field to win the longest race on the NASCAR calendar. It was helped along by some great pit strategy from crew chief Gil Martin.
“The No. 5 stayed out (on the final caution at lap 386 of 400) and we were able to have a little bit fresher tires and get in front of him on the restart,” said Harvick. “At that point you hope that everybody behind you pits.”
Kasey Kahne had the race just about wrapped up when that late caution put the two alongside each other after Harvick’s strong pit stop. In one lap Harvick not only took the lead, but he continued to stretch his advantage each time he passed the flag stand and would come away with another one of his patented lead the most important laps kind of victory.
“We were able to just hold it wide open on the restart, clear him coming off turn two [and] all from there was clear sailing.”
Kahne’s decision not to pit would ultimately cost him, but thought it was a good decision.
“There were a couple of guys that had just got tires so we thought they would stay out,” Kahne said. “They were probably 10th or 12th. So if they stay out then we would have a couple … where ours are hot and so were theirs. We didn’t think it would be a big deal. That didn’t happen. The whole field pitted [and] we were in a tough spot. I bet if we pit some of them don’t.”
Kahne was in a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t position and he chose what many would think was a good decision. All he could do was watch Harvick pull away as the laps counted down.
Kurt Busch seemed to take third place the hardest of any of the runners-up because the final caution left him on the track all by himself lacking any kind of power. Originally thought a dead battery, a cable appears to have slipped off. He was coming on strong and might have been a serious contender for the 600 title.
“I don’t know, I’m a little shell-shocked still, trying to find the exact words because I’m always judged on my reaction instead of my actual performance.” he said in the media center after all the pit row interviews. “It was a good 550 miles it seemed for us, then the normal something has to pop, some adversity we have to overcome came about. It came about this week in a dead battery.”
Brother Kyle Busch was considered one of the favorites and battled Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota when the race reached the halfway point. It was a relatively clean race to that point although only 20 cars remained on the lead lap, Ambrose was one of them.
Other than a one-car accident by the No. 13 of Casey Mears it wasn’t until 188 to go that things happened and it involved five cars.
Kyle Busch’s chances of running the trifecta at CMS, winning the Camping World Truck Series last weekend, Nationwide Series race Saturday and the Coca-Cola 600 disappeared as he began to smoke and on the caution that would come out for another reason, he pitted, climbed out of his car and was done. No one has even taken all three May races and Busch is still looking for his first Sprint Cup victory at this track.
“We had been running first, second or third most of the evening,” Busch said. “Just a catastrophic engine failure – it seems to be that time of the year again. I hate it for all my guys. It’s just so frustrating to see it end on a short note like that and not getting the finish that we needed. Now we go to Dover.”
At just about that time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his No. 88 blow up and Greg Biffle would be the first to get caught up in the impending mayhem. Dave Blaney (No. 16) and Travis Kvapil (No. 93) rammed the outside wall together taking them out of the race.
“I smelled something burning,” Earnhardt said. “I thought it was rubber build-up on the headers or something. I didn’t start losing power until the last lap before it broke with the water and oil mixing together, and that’s never good. We didn’t really have a good car. I just hope everybody is okay from the accident in the stands.”
Camera Failure Update: With roughly 100 laps to go in the race a press release from Fox was handed out stating that no one knows what caused the camera line to break and their only concern was for the injured fans. The drive rope failed near Turn 1 and the camera did not fall because guide ropes acted as designed. A full investigation is planned and the use of the technology has been suspended indefinitely.
Notes: During the red flag and before NASCAR allowed the damaged cars to be repaired under red, Kyle Busch came out with what appeared to be a cell phone camera and took pictured of his wounded vehicle. He could be hearing from NASCAR regarding the use of certain electronic devices by drivers.
It was Kevin Harvick’s 21st victory of his Sprint Cup racing career, his second win and fourth top-10 finish of the year. At CMS it was his second visit to the winner’s circle and has eight top-10 finishes in 25 starts.
Kasey Kahne posted his 11th top-10 finish in 19 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and sixth of the 2013 season.
Rickey Stenhouse Jr. was the top finishing rookie (14th)
Despite his 22nd place finish, Jimmie Johnson leads the points standings by 32 over Carl Edwards, who finished 11th.
1 – For 5 laps (Debris Turns 3 and 4)
Benefit: No. 43, Aric Almirola
2 – For 5 laps (Accident No. 13, Turn 4)
Benefit: No. 39, Ryan Newman
3 – For 8 laps (Debris front stretch – between RED FLAG 1 and RED FLAG 2)
Benefit: No. 10, Danica Patrick
4 – For 6 laps (Debris on back stretch)
Benefit: No. 42, Juan Pablo Montoya
5 – For 8 laps (Multi-car accident in Turn 3 – see above)
Benefit: No. 42 Juan Pablo Montoya
6 – For 8 laps (Debris in Turn 1)
Benefit: No. 48, Jimmie Johnson
7 – For 6 laps (Debris in Turn 4)
Benefit: No. 9, Marcos Ambrose
8 – For 5 laps (Accident between Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski)
Benefit: No. 14, Tony Stewart
9 – For 6 laps after 9:13 RED FLAG (Multi car accident involving Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Casey Mears, Bobby Labonte and Trevor Bayne)
Benefit: No. 31, Jeff Burton
10 – For 4 laps (accident involving Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard and Tony Stewart)
Benefit: Rickey Stenhouse Jr.
11 – For 4 laps (Debris on front stretch)
Benefit: Paul Menard