Travis Kvapil, one of Sunday's many victims of the seemingly bizarre (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
It was a madhouse Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with an increasingly bizarre turn of events that created one of the weirdest nights of racing in quite some time on the NASCAR tour.
Kevin Harvick wound up winning, almost by being the last man standing, in a night of brutal action, over Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch.
The winning move came during a yellow, for debris, with only 16 laps left in the 400-lapper, well over five hours after the 6:23 p.m. ET start, under brilliant, warm spring skies.
The move was simple -- crew chief Gil Martin, as at Richmond earlier this month, calling Harvick to pit road for two fresh tires, though giving up second spot on the track.
Kahne, the leader at that point, didn't pit, feeling he could hold track position the last 12 laps of the race, even though his tires had some 30 miles on them.
Harvick got a good start, quickly took the lead, and Kahne couldn't fight back to his rear bumper.
But the action on the track and Harvick's win and Kahne's loss and Kurt Busch's bitter disappointment weren't the heart of the story of the night.
Rather the heart of this story was the wildly chaotic atmosphere of the race, which enveloped drivers like some heavy fog, dragging them from one disaster into the next.
As the nightcap event to a day long of racing, starting with the Grand Prix of Monaco, and then continuing with one of the most emotional and exciting Indy 500s ever, this Coke 600 was, well, like one of the heavyweight boxing showdowns where they simply pummel the hell out of each other.
The 600 turned again and again -- not because of great racing, because there really wasn't much of that, but rather because of the wild sequence of events, which left drivers and fans dazed, even confused at times.
Victory! Kevin Harvick is riding high with team owner Richard Childress and crew chief Gil Martin. Wonder if he's having any second thoughts about leaving at the end of the season? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
The incident that seemed to trigger the bizarreness was the failure of one of Fox TV's high-wire moving cameras. The camera itself didn't fall down (two years ago, in a similar incident, such a camera did fall on a football playing field), but one of the half-mile long nylon transport cables collapsed on to the track itself.
That cable entangle race cars, which hit it at 195 mph, and the cable injured at least 10 fans.
Kahne was stunned at the cable collapsing: "I came off turn four and saw it wrapped around Kyle's car. Then it hit mine.
"I thought I had to be seeing things. There was no way there could be a cable on the race track.
"But by the time we got to turn one, I saw it again. And I saw Kyle's fender and the side of his car go down (ripped open by the cable). I've never seen anything like that.
"Then we went down the backstretch and when we came back around people were still hitting it.
"I was definitely surprised there wasn't a caution any quicker, for something like that."
"The first time I went by I said 'Well, I guess my career is over, because my eyes are taking a crap,'" Harvick said with a laugh.
"I was hoping this wasn't my last race. I was looking for that black thing laying across the track the next time by, and there it was.
"This is one of the night you going into knowing you're just going to have to grind it out and keep yourself in position."
Safety crews picking up the spider's web of nylon TV cable that collapsed onto the track and ensnariing drivers at 195 mph (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Harvick didn't have the best car on the track, by far. But it was a night of survival, and he and Martin were the best at that.
The race started with four men head-and-shoulders above the rest: Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.
Jimmie Johnson was trying to charge into contention late but crashed with 70 laps to go, taking out Kenseth. That was just one of many almost surreal moments.
Harvick's first words in victory lane: "I hope everybody is okay from that cable. That was a weird incident.
"Gil made a great call at the end. And we were able to survive until it was time to go at the end."
"We had 12 different scenarios we were trying to play out," Gil Martin said. "I thought coming for tires was a no-brainer. And it worked out good."
Danica Patrick (10) body slams Brad Keselowski into the wall (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kahne had one of the cars to beat, and knew it: "It was definitely our race to lose.
"We thought some guys would stay out, and we could get away. But that didn't happen; they all pitted.
"I knew Kevin would be good. We raced all day, and I thought we were in good position, but at the end we didn't get it done."
While Kahne was disappointed, not nearly as much as Kurt Busch, who showed hard, mixed emotions. Again Busch had a car that was easily strong enough to win....and yet didn't.
Busch was leading late, with a little over 100 miles to go in the 600-miler, when Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski crashed hard. NASCAR held the field while cleaning up the debris. But during that pause Busch's engine went dead, with battery trouble.
Busch needed a push from a wrecker to get a jump start and he fell to 15th as he headed to pit road for his crew to replace the battery.
Busch charged hard back into contention.
"It's still a tough slog. We got the lead...and then the battery went dead. I don't know what to think about that.
"I'm still shell-shocked."
It was a beautiful night for racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway....but it quickly turned downright bizarre (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
(This is the earlier report on the TV cable.)
A high-wire TV camera cable snapped midway through Sunday night's Coca Cola 600, in a bizarre failure, dropping the nylon cable onto the track at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Several cars ran over the cable and suffered significant damage, and track officials reported 10 fans were injured in the incident. Three of those fans were taken to a local hospital with unnamed injuries; seven were treated at the track.
The cable is used by Fox for a fast-moving camera high above the race track, a camera that can travel much of the front straight.
NASCAR red-flagged the race for about 30 minutes while dealing with the highly unusual situation. Usually teams are not allowed to work on their cars during red flags, but NASCAR waved that rule this time and gave them 15 minutes to repair any damage.
Fox issued a short press release:
"At this time, we do not have a cause for the failure of the camera drive line that interrupted tonight's Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and our immediate concern is with the injured fans.
"The camera system consists of three ropes -- a drive rope which moves the camera back and forth, and two guide ropes on either side. The drive rope failed near the Turn 1 connection and fell to the track. The camera itself did not come down because guide ropes acted as designed. A full investigation is planned, and use of the camera is suspended indefinitely.
"This camera system had been used successfully at this year's Daytona 500, last week's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and other major events around the world. We certainly regret that the system failure affected tonight's event, we apologize to the racers whose cars were damaged, and our immediate concern is for the race fans. We also offer a sincere 'thank you' to the staff at CMS for attending to the injuries and keeping us informed on this developing situation.
"When we have more information on the cause of the equipment failure, we will share it with you immediately."
The TV camera in question (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)