CONCORD, N.C. – Not even a spate of late-race crashes, a dominating performance by Kasey Kahne or a trip wire on the racetrack could keep Kevin Harvick from winning Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
While the longest stock car race of the year lacked the kind of passing up front as the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day, it did have its share of bizarre moments with blown engines from early contenders, late crashes and a fallen wire for an overhead camera stretching from the fourth turn to the first turn that created nearly a half-hour delay just short of the 200-mile mark.
Through it all, Harvick proved again he’s one of the best at closing a deal at the end of a stock car race. He led the final 10 laps to win Sunday. Two years ago he only led two laps in the 600 – the final two laps.
Kahne led early and late in stock car’s marathon taking the lead with 18 laps to go. A late caution for debris with 14 laps remaining gave Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis a tough decision. They decided to stay on the track while everyone else on the lead lap pitted for new tires.
Better traction was worth more than track position in a final 10-lap sprint.
Kahne, who led a race-best 161 of 400 laps, held on for second place, followed by Kurt Busch in third, Denny Hamlin in fourth, Joey Logano in fifth, Ryan Newman in sixth, Tony Stewart in seventh, Clint Bowyer in eighth, Martin Truex Jr. in ninth and Marcos Ambrose in 10th.
“We just went and won it this time,” Harvick said. “Good strategy call there. The 5 (Kahne) stayed out and we had fresher tires. We got in front of him there.”
Kasey Kahne, who woke up the morning of the race with flu-like symptoms, dominated the first 100 miles. Kyle Busch took control for most of the next 100 miles before Matt Kenseth jumped out front for much of the next 150 miles.
At one point, Kenseth was ahead by more than a quarter-mile when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch simultaneously lost engines on Lap 259. Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil crashed after they ran through oil.
“We were running first, second, third, and then catastrophic engine failure,” Busch said. “It’s so frustrating to see it end on a short note like that.”
Kenseth got out of pitting sequence with everyone else when he didn’t stop during the caution. It also dropped him back to 15th with 100 laps remaining.
A caution for debris on Lap 313 allowed Kenseth to stop again – and to catch up with the other leaders.
The key in the final 82 laps – 123 miles – was to avoid the crashes during the restarts. Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick wrecked after one restart with 82. Seven laps later Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Casey Mears and Bobby Labonte crashed during another restart.
After the delay, race leader Kurt Busch fell back to 22nd after his battery died.
Two laps after the next restart, Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya crashed in the fourth turn.
Kahne lost his chance by guessing wrong on the final pit stop.
“We didn’t think it would be a big deal and we’d get away,” he said. “If we pitted, some of them would have stayed out.”
A pull wire that operates a gyro-controlled camera that runs on a guide wire between turns 1 and 4 snapped on the 122nd lap. That sent a half-mile-long sprawling onto the racetrack and into the grandstands.
Seven fans were treated for “minor cuts and scrapes” at the track and released, a speedway said in a release. Three other fans were sent to local hospitals for further evaluation.
The cable got tangled under cars and did body damage on others. Cars driven by Kyle Busch (ripped right-front fender), Marcos Ambrose (wrapped around rear axle and broke a brake line) and Mark Martin (body damage to nose and rear deck) got most of the damage. Cars driven by Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Montoya also appeared to be affected by the cable.
NASCAR stopped the race for 10 minutes, 40 seconds while crews tried to gather up the cable. They ran one lap and stopped the race again for 16 minutes, 22 seconds to allow teams to make any repairs necessary without penalty.
The camera system is similar to ones used at college and professional football games to provide at-speed camera angles from above. The two heavy guide wires didn’t fail, but the nylon cable that’s used to pull the camera between the turns snapped.
The camera system was developed by CamCat Systems.
Fox Sports said it would conduct an internal investigation. The network also said it wouldn’t use the camera again until it had answers.