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One wild night....and Kevin Harvick? Yep, the guy who doesn't like this track, survived the chaos to win the Charlotte 600

  Kevin Harvick, the surprise 600 winner (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   It was a wacky, zany Memorial Day Sunday, all the way around the racing world. First at Monaco. Then at Indianapolis. Finally at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
   Kevin Harvick, whose record at Charlotte hasn't been great, and who concedes he's got a 'bad attitude' about this track, pulled off a surprising victory in NASCAR's longest race, the Coca Cola 600, when so many of his rivals ran out of gas in the final two miles.

   "Today we were lucky. Nothing against the track; I just don't like the track. It doesn't fit what I do….even here in victory lane," Harvick said, somewhat in amazement.
   "I just have a bad attitude here; maybe this will change that."
    David Ragan, who ran strong throughout the 4-1/2-hour race, got good tactical work by crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and wound up second. But he conceded he needed a good shot of luck late too. "We were very fortunate not to get caught up in a wreck," Ragan said of the wild finish, with cars out of gas and slowing unpredictably, creating chaos around the 1-1/2-mile speedway.


     Martin Truex Jr. (56) is having trouble, and soon so will Brian Vickers (83). But rookie Ricky Stenhouse (21), subbing for Trevor Bayne, had a great Sprint Cup debut and survived this and several other incidents too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    What made the final two laps so treacherous was a late yellow for Jimmie Johnson's blown engine. Harvick was seventh at that yellow, with four laps to go, and the battle seemed to be among Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
    It was clear before the caution that a large number of drivers wouldn't be able to make it to the finish, though most would likely gamble. And if they ran out under green, that would be one thing….but running out after the field had just been bunched for the final restart, well, that was lighting the fuse.
    And it all predictably blew up.
    Several drivers, including out-of-gas Biffle, had to stop for fuel. But Kahne, the leader at that point, declined to pit.
    And therein came the tale:
    For the final restart with two laps to go, Kahne and Earnhardt were side by side.
    But Kahne, out of fuel, never got a start, and that triggered a big pileup in the first and second turns.
    Earnhardt then jumped out to a big lead, as they piled up behind him and tried to sort things out.
    The crash seemed bad enough that NASCAR could easily have thrown a yellow, but it kept the green out.

     Mark Martin (5) gets squeezed up into the wall by David Gilliland (34), and Ryan Newman (39) has no place to go (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    And it looked like Earnhardt was sailing toward his first tour victory in a long, long time, since the summer of 2008.
    But as Earnhardt was in the middle of the final corner, he ran out of gas, along with others.
   And Harvick roared by on the outside to win.
  "The whole inside lane stopped, and Kasey stopped right in front of me, and everyone was running out of fuel," a surprised Logano said after finishing third.
   "I thought it was going to get ugly there at the end, and it did," Ragan said.
    Earnhardt tried not to be disappointed: "We weren't supposed to make. We were going to run out of gas. I tried to save as much as I could.
   "I'm disappointed we didn't win. We came so close. But we were a top-five car. We ran good tonight, and I'm proud of the car, proud of my guys."
    It was perhaps an appropriately confusing and bizarre finish to what was an unusually odd race.
    "When I saw Dale slowing down, wow, we all want him to win," Harvick said of Earnhardt's fate.

     Paul Menard (27) didn't make this corner (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    The fickle finger of Fate, perhaps the best way to describe it, turned Sunday night's 600 upside down twice, when untimely cautions – during stretches of routine, scheduled pit stops under green – scrabbled up the field. That in turn had crew chiefs scrambling for different strategies, which turned the race quite confusing over the final hour or so. Even drivers conceded they weren't quite sure what was going on.
    The biggest loser of the ill-timed yellows were the Jack Roush Fords, especially Carl Edwards, who appeared to have the best car in the field, and teammate Matt Kenseth, who could have made that same claim too. Edwards got trapped deep in the field and never recovered. Kenseth did manage to regain track position late, but then he ran out of gas.
   At one point Roush men were running 1-2-3-4-5, in a awesome performance.
   And Chevy drivers seemed quite outclassed. Jamie McMurray blew his engine midway, and then Johnson at the end – crew chief Chad Knaus venting his frustration in an angry tirade that Fox announcers apologized for.
   One of the most unusual twists in the race was Kyle Busch. He wasn't very strong early, but then he was able to take advantage of one of those ungainly yellows to get up front. And he was easily faster than any of the Roush cars chasing him.
   However Busch twice spun out and skidded through the infield grass, and finally called it a night, finishing 32nd.
 Busch wasn't in a good mood after the race, leaving to crew chief Dave Rogers to do the post-mortem:
    "The race was 600 miles and it felt like 800.  And clean air meant so much.
    "I thought Kyle did a great job of methodically working his way up to the front (after starting 21st)."
    But then the odd cautions turned everything topsy turvey.
    And when Busch got caught back in traffic, Rogers said "Honestly, Kyle was just trying to make something out of nothing.  None of the cars handled well back there.
    "Greg Biffle rode in the back (too) and barely stayed on the lead lap…and then contended for the win. 
    "Kyle was trying to make something out of nothing and it got away from him. That's why we love Kyle Busch -- he only knows one speed, full throttle."



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