It came down to a late race restart and a little strategy from crew chief Gil Martin, but Kevin Harvick won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night. It's Harvick's second win of the 2013 season, 21st of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, and second career win in the iconic race. After the race, Harvick gave the credit for his win to his team.
"I gotta say thank you to all the guys at RCR, kinda won it on fuel last time we actually raced to win it this time," Harvick said in victory lane. "It was a good strategy call and I knew I had to get ahead of him (Kasey Kahne) on the restart."
The strategy call Harvick was talking about came when the caution flew on lap 384 of 400. Kasey Kahne had the best car at the time but Harvick was running second and decided to come down on pit road and get two tires. Tires were very much a factor in the race as the fall-off rate was a big factor. Harvick and everyone else under the caution pitted, leaving Kahne as the only car out on the track on old tires.
Kahne tried to hold off Harvick on the outside on the restart but Harvick's car was too strong and he pulled away during the final ten laps and cruised to victory. Kahne finished second with Kurt Busch coming home third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Joey Logano fifth. Sixth position went to Ryan Newman with Tony Stewart in seventh, Clint Bowyer eighth, Martin Truex Jr ninth and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top ten.
The Coca-Cola 600 started when pole sitter Denny Hamlin led the field to green. Hamlin led early but would be passed by teammate Matt Kenseth on lap seven as Kenseth showed early he would be a factor throughout the race. On lap 25 Kasey Kahne passed Matt Kenseth for the lead in turn one and Kahne showed his muscle for the first time in the race.
Green flag stops would begin on lap 40 and when they cycled around on lap 48 Kasey Kahne's lead over Kenseth was four seconds. Kahne led when the races' first caution of the night fell on lap 69 for debris. All lead lap cars would stop under the yellow flag as Kahne's crew would get him out first.
Kahne led the field to the restart on lap 75 but would immediately feel pressure from Kyle Busch. Busch got to the lead on lap 79 but would be passed by Kahne a lap later as Kahne began to pull away once again. Kahne's lead was over two seconds when the races' second caution flew on lap 114 when Casey Mears hit the outside wall. Mears would continue but he would finish 23rd.
The race restarted on lap 120 after another round of pit stops. Kyle Busch's team got him out first and he led the field to the green flag. Two laps later, however, one of the most bizarre incidents in NASCAR history happened when a cable from a Fox camera came onto the track and caused the races' third caution. The cable, which was connected to Fox's overhead camera, fell onto the whole racetrack and was run over by several drivers including race leader Kyle Busch. Mark Martin and Marcos Ambrose also ran over the cable causing damage to both of their cars. The damage on Busch's #18 Toyota was the most significant. NASCAR would throw a 15 minute red flag period to let the teams fix the damage on their cars but maintain their position on the racetrack. It was an unprecedented move but one NASCAR felt was needed given the circumstances.
After a period of over 40 minutes a newly repaired #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and driver Kyle Busch led the field to green on lap 130. Busch would show the effects from the damage did not harm his racecar and the team did a great job repairing the damage. Busch's lead by lap 154 was over a half second. He led by 1.5 seconds on lap 167. Second place driver Matt Kenseth began to chase down Busch and reel him in. After a round of green flag pit stops, Kenseth found himself ahead of Busch on lap 181. Kenseth began to pull away from Busch as the sun began to set.
Six laps later Ricky Stenhouse Jr would find trouble when he had to pit for a flat right rear tire. Meanwhile, in front Kenseth's lead had stretched to four seconds as the race hit the half way mark on lap 200. After another set of green flag pit stops Kenseth found himself with a commanding 6.7 second lead over Kasey Kahne on lap 238. On lap 243 that would all be erased when debris caused the races' fourth caution of the night.
After pit stops Kenseth was still in front on the lap 248 restart and began to pull away from the field. Eight laps later Kyle Busch began to experience trouble in his Toyota Camry. Busch fell off the pace and was experiencing an engine problem. However, he wasn't the only one with major issues. On the same lap Dale Earnhardt Jr's engine let go in turn three, dropping oil all over the racetrack. Greg Biffle would slip in the oil and hit the outside wall as did Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil. Biffle would continue as would Blaney. Blaney finished 30th and Kvapil finished 40th. Biffle would end up finishing 31st, while Earnhardt finished 39th, his worst finish of the season. Kyle Busch also retired from the race under the caution period and finished 38th.
The leaders would pit again under caution although most of the front runners took two tires. Leader Matt Kenseth stayed out on that round of pit stops. The race restarted on lap 266 and Kenseth pulled away. On lap 274 Kasey Kahne would pass Kenseth for the lead, as Kahne had fresher tires and a faster racecar. The move for Kenseth was costly as he would be off sequence from the rest of the field on pit stops. Kenseth was also losing ground to the leaders, he was over three seconds behind Kahne when he had to pit on lap 300 for fuel and four tires.
A few laps later a round of green flag pit stops began with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson leading the field down pit road. NASCAR would then spot debris on the track in turn four while the leaders were pitting. Jeff Gordon would lose a lap as would Johnson but Johnson received the free pass as he was the first car one lap down. The caution was also costly for Matt Kenseth who was also one lap down.
On lap 309 Kasey Kahne went to the lead and he would lead for three laps when the races' seventh caution of the day flew when Landon Cassill blew a tire and hit the wall. Cassill finished 36th.
Wildness happened on the lap 317 restart as Martin Truex Jr shot to the low lane to make it three wide for the lead. Truex led but would lose the lead a lap later when Kahne got to the lead. However on lap 319 Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski would crash in turn three. Patrick and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr made contact, sending Patrick's car up the track and into Keselowski's Ford in which both drivers received significant damage. Patrick would continue but Keselowski's day was done as he finished 36th. Patrick finished 29th.
On the lap 324 restart Kurt Busch pulled away from the field and got to the lead. One lap later however, Mark Martin and Aric Almirola would make contact sending Almirola up the track and into Jeff Gordon, who hit the outside wall a ton. Bobby Labonte, Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Casey Mears also got collected in the incident although their damage was minor. Gordon was done for the day as was Martin and Almirola. They finished 35th, 34th and 33rd respectively. The race was red flagged as safety crews cleaned up the mess. Kurt Busch's car would not re-fire and lost power. Busch had to pit for the issue and change the battery on his Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. It was a heartbreaker as Busch had to go to the end of the field for changing his battery.
Kasey Kahne pulled away on the lap 330 restart but the race would be slowed for the tenth time when Jimmie Johnson crashed in turn four. Johnson lost control of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and collected a few drivers in its travel up the wall. Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Menard and Matt Kenseth were all involved. Montoya and Kenseth would have significant damage and but would finish the race. Any chance of Kenseth winning went out the window.
The race restarted on lap 337 and Kevin Harvick pulled away as Kasey Kahne spun his tires on the restart. Kahne would fight back though and pass Harvick for the lead on lap 340. After a round of pit stops, which saw several strategy moves taking place over the next twenty laps Kahne found himself back in the lead by three seconds on lap 383. On lap 384 debris fell off of Jimmie Johnson's car and onto the front stretch causing the races' 11th and final caution flag. Everyone then played the strategy game and everyone but the leader would pit. The top six cars to pit took two tires and Kevin Harvick led the field off pit road, next to Kasey Kahne for the restart who stayed out.
Harvick's fresh tires were too much to match for Kahne and Harvick passed Kahne with ease on lap 390 and sped ahead to win his second race of the year.
Other notable finishers in the race included Carl Edwards in 11th, Matt Kenseth in 15th, Trevor Bayne in 16th, Juan Pablo Montoya in 18th and Jimmie Johnson in 22nd.
Johnson still leads the point standings after the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He leads second place points man Carl Edwards by 32 points and third place driver Matt Kenseth by 51 points. Sitting fourth in the standings is Clint Bowyer who is 64 points off the lead with Kasey Kahne in fifth 75 points back. Dale Earnhardt Jr is sixth, seventh is Kevin Harvick, with Paul Menard eighth, Martin Truex Jr ninth and Brad Keselowski tenth.
Other notables in the point standings include Kyle Busch in 11th, Greg Biffle in 13th, Jeff Gordon in 15th, Ryan Newman in 16th, Kurt Busch in 18th, Tony Stewart in 20th, and Denny Hamlin in 24th.
The next race on the Sprint Cup Series schedule is the Fedex 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Raceway on June 2nd.
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