Harvick wins battle of survivors
Full Moon Fever was in full effect on Sunday night as Kevin Harvick survived a wild night of racing, beating out Kasey Kahne in the final laps to score his 21st-career Sprint Cup victory in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Harvick passed Kasey Kahne on a restart with 11 laps to go and pulled away to easily collect his second victory of the season and his second win in NASCAR’s longest race, which turned out to be one of the most bizarre races in recent memory.
Cameras falling from the sky, three red flags, 11 caution flags and 24 lead changes - Harvick made it through it all.
“This is a long night,” said Harvick. “We have been here a lot of times and know that you just have to grind through mile after mile, keep your car running, don’t get tore up, don’t get a lap down and you’re going to be somewhere around at the end. Everybody did that on our Budweiser Chevy tonight and there we were at the end.”
Sunday night, under a nearly full moon, it seemed like whatever could go wrong, did.
The strange events started on lap 127, when a nylon cable that was part of FOX Sports CamCat overhead camera system snapped and fell onto the racetrack, damaging several cars on the track and injuring a dozen fans in the stands.
“The first time I drove by I said, Hell, my career is over, my eyes have taken a crap. I saw this streak go by me. What in the hell was that?” said Harvick. “I got to the start/finish line, I eased off the gas, I knew what I had seen the lap before, I was hoping it wasn't my last race, I was hoping what I saw was right. I let off at the start/finish line, there was that black streak again. I was looking for it. You could see the cable hanging down.
NASCAR threw the red flag to clean up the cables, and allowed teams 15 minutes to repair any damage on their cars caused by the cable.
Among the damaged cars were Marcos Ambrose, polesitter Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who had most of his right-front fender ripped away.
Busch, who was leading at the time and looking to finally capture his first Charlotte Sprint Cup victory, managed to get his car back into fighting trim and continued to lead the race, only to see his chances go up in smoke with a blown engine on lap 260.
“I didn’t see anything,” said Busch after hitting the cable. “I just heard a big thunk on the right-front tire and thought the right-front tire blew out. That’s how hard it felt and what it felt like. It did have an effect of slowing my car down and I could feel it like, ‘Whoa.’ That’s weird and I don’t know that anybody has ever seen that. Maybe now we can get rid of that thing.”
Within a lap of Busch’s engine expiring, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered a catastrophic engine failure, triggering a four-car crash as they slid in his oil behind him.
For several of the top contenders, things got even worse.
On laps 320, Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski tangled in turn three, sending the defending Sprint Cup Champion to the garage for the night, and on the ensuring restart, a six-car pileup in the front straight collected Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola and Mark Martin, bringing out a 10-minute red flag.
Just one lap later under green, last weeks Sprint All Star race winner Jimmie Johnson would get loose coming through turn four, taking Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya with him.
For the final 50 laps things started to settle down and it seemed like the race would come down to fuel mileage, with Kahne looking to capitalize coming to pit road with 36 laps to go. Once the field cycled around under green-flag pit stops, Kahne was back out in front with just 18 laps left.
But the full moon wasn’t done playing tricks quite yet.
Four laps later, the caution waved for the 11th and final time, giving the teams at the front of the field a choice – pit or stay out.
As the field came around, Kahne was the only driver to stay out as all the lead-lap cars came to pit road, leaving Kahne a sitting duck on the restart.
Harvick, who took just two tires on his final stop, restarted on the inside as the green flag waved on lap 389 and quickly overtook Kahne coming out of turn two to regain the lead, pulling out to a half-second lead within two laps.
With Harvick out of reach, Kahne had his hands full holding of Kurt Busch, who had roared up from sixth-place on the restart to slide into third, but managed to hold to finish in the runner-up spot.
Despite posting his fourth top-two finish in the Coca-Cola 600, Kahne was left to contemplate letting the win slip through his fingers.
“It was definitely our race to lose, especially those last hundred laps,” said Kahne. “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.
Kurt Busch’s third-place finish was a bittersweet result after being forced to give up the lead with 74 laps to go due to a dead battery in his no. 78 Chevrolet.
Busch was able to get back out and rallied get back into the top ten, then jump into the top-three on the final restart to pick up his first top-five finish in seven races.
“We did the best we could with 600 miles, solid pit stops. The car was a little tight here, a little loose there. All in all, brought it home third. That's a good points night.”
Despite finishing 22nd, Johnson still leads the points standings, although his margin over cut by 12 points over second-place Carl Edwards, now 32 points back.
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