Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick lined up side by side for a restart with 11 laps to go Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway following a NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 that had been hampered repeatedly by caution periods in the closing laps.
Harvick jumped ahead of leader Kahne on the restart — and held on for the victory.
Kahne had stayed out during the caution period that led to the restart, leaving him as the lone driver on the track racing with worn tires. Harvick immediately caught him, with Kurt Busch quickly to third and challenging for the win.
The race was marred by crashes and a trio of red-flag periods, extending the running almost to Memorial Day.
Hard crashes left Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Aric Almirola and Mark Martin’s car with heavy damage. Former race leader Kyle Busch’s night ended with an engine failure.
Kahne led 156 laps and appeared to have the strongest machine in NASCAR’s longest race. But Harvick took the low line following the last of 11 cautions and slowly pulled away.
Harvick won two years ago when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas 700 feet from the finish line.
Kahne finished second, Kurt Busch third and polesitter Denny Hamlin was fourth in his second full race since returning from injury.
There were 10 people injured when a TV cabling rope collapsed onto the track and into the grandstands. Three were taken to hospitals with non-life threatening injuries and were later released.
”To win at Charlotte it is something we had to overcome in the past,” Harvick said. ”We won it on gas mileage last time. This time we just went out and won it.”
Harvick’s win was almost as big a surprise as it was in 2011 when the crowd anticipated Earnhardt ending what was then a long, long victory drought.
Kahne had the strongest car, quickly moving back to the front each time he fell back. He had a large lead and lots of open track when the final caution flag came out with 16 laps remaining.
But Kahne remained on the track while Harvick pitted for two fresh tires. On the restart, Harvick quickly took control and Kahne couldn’t catch up.
Ryan Newman was sixth followed by Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose.
Harvick’s victory ended a long, strange day of racing in the biggest motorsports’ weekend. Tony Kanaan took a crowd-pleasing win at the Indianapolis 500 before one of NASCAR’s showcase events was marred by the rope problems.
The race stopped suddenly a little over a quarter of the way into the long event after the nylon rope snapped in the first turn. The cars were brought into the pits and cleanup crews coiled up the long sections of rope as if they were putting away a garden hose. Drivers were allowed back to their pit stalls and crews given 15 minutes to assess and fix damage caused by the failure.
FOX Sports announcer Chris Myers apologized to fans and drivers several times for the delay and problems.
In a statement, FOX said it had suspended use of the overhead camera indefinitely. It said drive rope that moves the camera back and forth failed and it had no immediate reason why.
”A full investigation is planned,” the statement said.
Kyle Busch might want to look into why he can’t seem to win a Sprint Cup race in Charlotte.
He entered a favorite after winning the Truck Series event last week and powering to a Nationwide victory Saturday. He was in the lead, though, when the nylon guide rope snapped and ran smack over it. Busch heard a ”thunk” and knew he had problems. ”It did have an effect of slowing my car down and I could feel it like, `Whoa,”’ he said. ”That’s weird and I don’t know that anybody has ever seen that.”
Busch’s team got the car back in winning shape and he continued near the front. However, his race ended for good on lap 257 when his engine failed.
”Catastrophic engine failure. Seems to be that time of year,” said Busch, who has yet to win a Sprint Cup event at the track he calls his favorite.
Busch did praise NASCAR for halting the race and allowing teams to repair damage, which he said was unrelated to his engine problems.
About the same time Busch’s engine failed, Earnhardt’s race concluded with a similar problem. Earnhardt had smoke and oil pouring out on Lap 257. Greg Biffle slipped into the wall, sending him to the garage, and Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil collided.
”We didn’t have a really good car,” Earnhardt said. ”We know why. We can go back and feel like we can rebound from this real quick.”
That started of series of incidents that ended things for some of NASCAR’s most popular and successful drivers.
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick saw their chances end on Lap 319 when they collided on a restart. It appeared that Patrick’s boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., forced her car up the track and she clipped Keselowski, who began his day in the Penske pits at the Indianapolis 500.
Keselowski took the blame for the wreck and apologized to Patrick, who was running her her second Coca-Cola 600.
On the following restart, Mark Martin clipped Aric Almirola and set off a six-car wreck that caught up four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Stenhouse.
Kurt Busch, leading at the time, suddenly lost power and needed a wrecker to push him along into the pits to change the battery. He returned to the track in 15th.
And the problems weren’t over, either. Truex Jr. brushed series points leader Jimmie Johnson on the next restart to send the five-time champion skidding sideways and collected Matt Kenseth, who leads the series with three victories this year and led 112 laps at Charlotte.
NASCAR, as usual, did its best to honor the military and those who’ve served their country on Memorial Day weekend. Busloads of troops were brought to the track and retired Lt. Col. Oliver North gave a pre-race speech. There were massive American flags, several flyovers and even an eagle named Challenger who swept down from the top of the racetrack.