On a wild day/night of racing that involved everything from wayward roping to a driver shooting photos of his car during the race to red flags stopping the action three times, Kevin Harvick emerged in the twilight laps to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The victory was Harvick’s second in NASCAR’s longest race – and this one was longer than most 600s. It ended at 11:36 p.m. (ET) Sunday night.
The caution flew with 16 laps to go with Kasey Kahne holding a three-second lead over Harvick. Kahne didn’t pit, but the rest of the leaders did, leaving Kahne in the lead but with older tires.
The field took the green with 11 laps to go, and Harvick, who picked up two tires during the final stop, surged into first on the first lap.
Following Harvick at the finish were Kahne, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
This one had almost everything.
After an extended pre-race show saluting the military, drivers settled into a long afternoon and evening of racing. At the start of the race, none could have guessed their progress would be stopped about one-quarter into the race when roping supporting a Fox Sports camera snapped, damaging several cars and injuring 10 fans.
Later, a brutal crash on the trioval scattered debris across the first turn and put the race under the red flag again.
Crashes took out several top cars, extended the race to the shadow of midnight and left the door open for Harvick.
The Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing led 111 of the race’s first 200 laps, and JGR’s Matt Kenseth led at the halfway point.
Kyle Busch led 65 of the first 200 laps, and Kenseth was in front for 40.
The top lap leader in the first half, however, was Kahne, who led 84.
The race took a bizarre turn on lap 122 when roping supporting a television camera cable that stretched across the racing surface fell into the path of the cars, damaging several, including the Toyota of leader Kyle Busch.
The roping cut into the right front fender of Busch’s car and then wrapped around the rear end of Marcos Ambrose’s car, cutting a brake line. Mark Martin’s car also received damage.
Part of the rope fell into the grandstand near the fourth turn, injuring 10 fans, according to speedway officials. Seven fans were treated for minor injuries at the track. Three others were transported to a local hospital for further evaluation. The extent of their injuries was not released, although they apparently were not hurt seriously.
After the problem became apparent, NASCAR threw a caution flag and then a red flag, bringing the cars to pit road. In a very unusual move, teams were given 15 minutes to repair their cars while track crews worked to remove the rope. After the red flag, the field returned to the track in the order in which the cars were running at the time of the incident.
NASCAR’s approach to the incident was very unusual. Rarely have officials allowed such repair work, and the concept of keeping the field order intact is also a rarity.
While the race was redflagged and officials were determining what would happen next, Busch climbed out of his car and, a few minutes later, picked up a cell phone on pit road and shot pictures of the right-side damage to his car so his crew members could get a good look at the problems.
Immediately after the incident, Busch described the damage to his car as serious, saying the car had been “killed.” But, after extensive repairs to the right side, Busch returned to the track and stayed in first place during the first portion of the ensuing green-flag run.
Ambrose lost several laps because of the damage to his car but was allowed to return to the track first after the 15-minute session and make up the laps.
The camera, used by Fox Sports during its broadcasts, slides on cables above pit road and the track’s frontstretch.
Later in the race, on lap 251, Busch took his car to the garage with an engine problem. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an engine issue on the same lap and also parked his car. Several cars spun in fluids from Junior’s car as the race’s fifth caution flew.
With 80 laps to go, Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski slammed into the wall in turn three as they and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. raced in tight formation on a restart.
A few laps later, the biggest crash of the night occurred as Aric Almirola, Martin and Jeff Gordon tangled at the end of the trioval. Other cars spun in the aftermath of the wreck, and NASCAR threw another red flag to allow track workers to clean up the mess.
Kurt Busch had the lead when the caution flew, but his car lost power during the red flag. His car was pushed onto pit road, where crew members made a battery change.
That gave the lead to Harvick for the lap-332 restart.
The field ran only one lap under green before the next crash. Jimmie Johnson slid entering turn four, and Juan Pablo Montoya, trying to slow down, hit Kenseth and sent him into the wall.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.