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Kevin Harvick wins one for Richard Childress...and everyone else leaves Charlotte scratching their heads

  Team owner Richard Childress puts a bear hug on Kevin Harvick in Charlotte's victory lane, after a surprising victory in the Coke 600 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Carl Edwards, the leader of Jack Roush's Ford operation this season, had the Coke 600 well under control for the first hour or so, leading easily, pulling away when he wanted to.
   And Ford's edge was quite clear, with Roush men at one time running 1-2-3-4-5, an awesome performance.
   But then fate took some unexpected turns, the caution came out several times during the middle of green flag pit stops, shuffling the running order, creating chaos, and opening options for teams, which made it all even more confusing.

   And Edwards was one of the big losers in all that.
   "We were great…but it was just a track position game," Edwards said after struggling through the final hours to a disappointing 16th.
   "By chance, everything we did ended up being bad for track position. 
    "We were loose at the wrong times. And I made some moves out there that put us in some spots that set us back.
    "But that's racing.  And I thought there at the end, with all the fuel I'd saved, that we were going to be in a really good spot.
    "But somebody (leader Kasey Kahne) ran out of fuel on the restart, and everybody just clobbered everyone. 
     "I think if we would have had a chance to race for it, we would have been looking pretty good."



Beautiful weather for the 600, and a nice crowd (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Teammate David Ragan, who ran strong enough to win much of the night, pulled off his best finish of the year, by dodging the late wrecks and having enough gas to finish second.
    "I thought it was going to get ugly there at the end…which it did, for everyone else and not us," Ragan said in relief.
    Regan's crew chief Drew Blickensderfer made an amazingly bold call to bring Ragan in for gas and tires when the caution came out for Jimmie Johnson's blown engine with four laps to go. That gave Ragan fresh tires and enough gas to finish, but he was stuck in 10th.
   "If we were leading, we would have stayed out," Ragan said. "You can't pit when you're leading that late. But we were running fourth or fifth. 
   "Drew made a pretty gutsy call to pit.
    "And when you've got four fresh tires and you're full of fuel, you can be aggressive on those restarts.
    "I was just very lucky to get through turn one without getting wrecked (when Kahne ran out of gas). There was just barely enough room….
    "We clipped the right-front fender, we probably couldn't have made many more laps. But we were just in the right place at the right time."
    It was, all in all, a bizarre finish to a race that had been a torturous exercise in tactics and strategy for teams most of the night. After all that thinking and deciding, the race came down to a banzai dash through a mess of spinning cars.
    "That's a finish we deserved… but we just went about doing it the hard way," Ragan said.
    The wild finish? "We could have done all that in 40 laps and been at the house a couple of hours ago," Ragan said with a laugh.
    "It was a race with some strategy.  There were some guys on old tires, and I think some did two tires a lot during the night. So it was a very, very fun race to drive and to work out.
    "A lot of times we took fuel-only.
     "I can't remember doing that variation of stuff here in a long time. I thought that was cool."
    But when Kahne and others triggered that late chaos did Ragan think there would be a yellow?   
    "I guess they made the right call…because my spotter said 'They're wrecking in one, but no caution.'
    "I just assumed we'd get to the back straightaway and they'd throw the caution.
    "But I guess everybody got sorted out and kept going."

    Logano, who was a lap down early and had to spend much of the race catching up, following Ragan through the hole at the end and finished third, a remarkable comeback.
    "Track position played in this race a lot more than what it normally does," Logano said. "I think it was because of the tire. I'm used to coming in here and we're up by the wall.  This car is a lot more places now -- and now they're stuck on the bottom.  Everyone ran on the bottom the whole time, so it was really hard to pass.
    "If you didn't get them on the first couple laps of a restart, you might as well ride around the rest of the run.
    "I think that's why a lot people did a lot of pit strategy -- trying to get their car up there. 
     "It was a lot different race than what we normally see in Charlotte."
    The final two laps, and the Kahne melee? 
    "I was hoping there wasn't a caution," Logano said. "This is the highest I had been in the whole race.
    "I just saw cars stopped everywhere. But by the time we came back around, there were no cars…so everything was good."
   For Logano, this run may be just the mending spirit. He and his team have seemed on edge lately. And Logano conceded as much.
    "We're a couple Yankees from up north, and we yell and scream at each other, that's just how we communicate," Logano said with a grin, referring to crew chief Greg Zipadelli. "I think that's how everyone communicates that's from up there.  So that's not a big deal.
   "He (Zipadelli) was getting frustrated (early in this race); I was frustrated. It wasn't going any faster, we just didn't have the grip in the car. 
    "Just both of us getting frustrated…You've got to work those things out. 
     "Sometimes it's better to tell people how you feel and get over it.  We don't hold grudges; we just keep going."

    One of the feel-good stories of the wacky night was Ricky Stenhouse, making his Sprint Cup debut, in the sport's longest race, subbing for Trevor Bayne in the Woods' Ford. Stenhouse bounced off the walls several times, and dodged wrecks, and survived to finish a solid 11th.
   "That was interesting," Stenhouse said afterwards, considering his comeback from two laps down.
     "I hit the wall a couple of times, and then Donnie (Wingo, his crew chief) made a good call and got us to take the wave-around when we were two laps down, and the caution came back out (saving him another lap).
    "We kept freeing it up, and it finally started coming around.  We were really good for 15 laps; we could pass guys on the outside.  Then we'd taper off and slow down."
    Wingo followed Blickensderfer's  call with three laps to go to bring Stenhouse in for tires and gas. "We only lost three spots by coming in..and then we gained a lot with everybody running out," Stenhouse said.
   "I'm just glad I got this opportunity. It was everything I thought it was going to be. And the 600 miles didn’t seem too bad. Our trainer at the shop must be working me out pretty good."

 An unexpected blown engine put Jimmie Johnson behind the wall four laps shy of the finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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