Many years ago, one of the races at Charlotte Motor Speedway was dubbed, “Oh what a night.” I just have to say that sure was appropriate for what we saw there on Sunday.
Up to a point, everything was just so perfect.
We had the most beautiful weather for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 that I can remember us having in a long, long time. It wasn’t cold and rainy. It wasn’t 90 degrees and humid. It really was just awesome.
As the race started out, we saw basically what we had predicted all week long. This was NASCAR’s longest race of the year. It’s always a race of comers and goers. The drivers started racing with sunshine and you had cars that ran up front. But then as the track went through the changes from twilight to dark, you had cars that you hadn’t seen most of the race now racing up front. It just unfolded right there in front of us like it does in every May race here.
Despite the great racing, the obvious No. 1 story of the race was the malfunction of the FOX Sports camera cable. A cable snapped, injured some fans in the grandstands and damaged some race cars. It forced NASCAR to bring a halt to the race under red-flag conditions.
Normally, when the red flag is out, crews are not allowed to work on their race cars. However, this snapped cable was an exceptional situation and NASCAR saw it as that. Officials let the teams work on the cars that had been damaged by the cable, even during the red-flag period. They also let the teams with cars that were unhurt by the cable do normal pit stops and make normal changes.
I really applaud NASCAR for both cases because it simply was the right call. The cable that snapped was a nylon cable that has the strength of steel. It was a cable that ran from Turn 1 to Turn 4. Think about how many cars did or possibly did run over that cabling on the track. Obviously, there were drivers such as Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch who suffered significant damage when their cars made contact with the cabling. What about the other drivers that possibly ran over it and possibly had a cut tire? So I think it was a great call on NASCAR’s part to let all the cars get serviced, even though it was a red-flag condition.
We’ve had exceptional situations like this in the past. Think about the pothole that developed during the running of the Daytona 500 in 2010. In 2004, a piece of concrete came up at Martinsville, damaging Jeff Gordon’s car during the running of that race.
When you run as many races as NASCAR does from February to November, the law of averages is going to tell you that somewhere, sometime, you are going to have oddball things like this happen.
Obviously, from our side, this was an inexcusable situation. I feel very comfortable that our bosses at FOX will get with NASCAR and the company that provides the cable camera and get to the bottom of what happened. The goal is to determine how it happened, why it happened and to make sure it never happens again.
It was an odd race and an odd night. We ended up having 11 cautions for 62 laps. A lot of those cautions came in a big chunk there late in the race. The other odd thing was a lot of the teams high up in the points had issues on Sunday night. Guys such as Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., for example, had engines that let go.
There was a lot of attrition on Sunday night.
Easily the team I felt the worse for was Kyle Busch and his No. 18 camp. Once again he dominated the race, but as at Darlington Raceway, when he had a tire go down, Kyle wasn’t able to seal the deal and win on Sunday night. He was shooting for the double, too, as he had already won the Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon.
That team had to rally and overcome all the damage done to its car earlier in the race in the cable-camera incident. They did that only to have the engine let go later in the race. Earnhardt Jr.’s engine let go at almost the same time, and a lot of other drivers got caught up in that mess. So you hate that for all those teams involved.
I felt bad for Kasey Kahne and his crew chief, Kenny Francis. Kahne was leading the race late when they didn’t pit — and everyone else did. I know he had 20 laps on his tires, which is a lot of laps, but it was late in the race with a restart happening with only 11 laps to go. The two of them just banked on more drivers staying out with them and on getting in that clean air as the leader, but when Kahne stayed out, everyone else hit pit road.
Kahne was able to salvage second place, but he definitely had the most dominant car.
On the flipside is Kevin Harvick, who ended up winning the Coca-Cola 600 for the second time in three years. As everyone knows, he is leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the season and going to Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick said clear back in February at Daytona not to consider him and his group a lame-duck team — and they are proving that they are not giving up.
Harvick has said that when he leaves this team at the end of the year that his goal is to leave it in better shape than it was in when he came there in 2001. Harvick, crew chief Gil Martin and the team now have their second points win of the season and Sunday’s victory moved Harvick up three spots to seventh in the standings.
Another driver to watch is Kurt Busch. He, crew chief Todd Berrier and the entire Furniture Row team continue to amaze and impress week after week. Their race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was no different. Kurt started on the outside of the front row, and he ran in the top five almost all night. He and his team overcame their own issues with a battery going dead. They were able to get the battery changed and still fought back to a third-place finish, which is nothing short of amazing.
Their runs these past three weeks have been extremely impressive, and I honestly think they are only going to get stronger. I would not be surprised on any given week to see them win a race this year. I will go as far as to say I believe this is a team that can make its way into the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Another driver who put a great performance in the books was Denny Hamlin. That man was out of racing for more than a month because of the back injury he suffered in a March 24 crash at Auto Club Speedway. He came back three weeks ago and in his first race had a second-place finish. Then, at Charlotte, he finished fourth.
That helped move him up four spots in the points to 24th. As you know, he has to get into the top 20 in points by the end of the race at Richmond International Raceway on Sept. 7 to be eligible for a shot at one of the two wild-card spots in the Chase. Those go to the two drivers from 11th to 20th in the standings who have the most wins. I think he will definitely get into the top 20. Then he has to get a couple wins under his belt to make the Chase, which I believe is possible.
If he accomplishes that, he will be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup driver in the history of the Chase to make it into the select field of 12 without running all 26 races prior to it. That would be nothing short of incredible.
So now our two weeks of racing at Charlotte are behind us.
The Monster Mile of Dover International Speedway is ahead of us as the summer swing of races begins. It’s hard to believe that Dover will mark the end of the NASCAR on FOX season for 2013.
Gosh, it seems like yesterday we were at Daytona in January for testing of this new Generation 6 car, and now here we are handing the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage off to another network after this Sunday’s race.