Concord, NC – Kevin Harvick won Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after passing Kasey Kahne for the lead following a restart with 11 laps to go.
Harvick's second win in NASCAR's longest race of the season was overshadowed, though, by a rope cable from an overhead Fox Sports television camera that snapped and fell on the track and grandstand area, injuring 10 spectators and damaging several race cars. The nylon rope from the camera dropped on the track and in the grandstand area in turn 4 during lap 122. Speedway officials said seven fans were treated for minor cuts and scrapes at the track's infield medical care center. Three others had to be transported to a nearby hospital for further observation. They were treated and later released.
The incident forced NASCAR to stop the race two separate times, with the first red-flag period lasting 11 minutes and the second for 16 minutes. The cable tangled around several of the cars running on the track, causing damage to them. Kyle Busch, who was the leader at the time, Mark Martin and Marcos Ambrose were among those drivers who sustained damage to their cars.
"I saw this streak go by me and wondered, 'What in the hell was that'?" Harvick said. "I always have this thing with my eyes. It's one of the biggest things we have as drivers. You got to believe in your eyes. I tell myself, 'You got to believe what you saw'.
"I got to the start/finish line and eased off the gas. I knew what I had seen the lap before, and I was hoping it wasn't my last race. I was hoping what I saw was right. I let off at the start/finish line, and there was that black streak again. I was looking for it. You could see the cable hanging down."
Fox race announcers repeatedly apologized to viewers as well as the drivers and the fans affected by the incident. The television network also issued a statement, saying, "At this time, we do not have a cause for the failure of the camera drive line that interrupted tonight's Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and our immediate concern is with the injured fans.
"The camera system consists of three ropes -- a drive rope which moves the camera back and forth, and two guide ropes on either side. The drive rope failed near the Turn 1 connection and fell to the track. The camera itself did not come down because guide ropes acted as designed. A full investigation is planned, and use of the camera is suspended indefinitely.
"This camera system had been used successfully at this year's Daytona 500, last week's NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and other major events around the world. We certainly regret that the system failure affected tonight's event, we apologize to the racers whose cars were damaged and our immediate concern is for the race fans."
When the field was parked on pit road during the red flag, NASCAR allowed teams to work on their cars due to the very unforeseen circumstance. After the cable cleanup was completed and the race resumed under caution, NASCAR placed the field in the order it had been when the caution flag first came out.
"I commend NASCAR for taking action and giving us all the chance to repair our damaged cars from the issue that we had earlier in the race," Busch said later in the race when he suffered engine failure and had his night end prematurely.
Busch won his record seventh Nationwide Series race at Charlotte on Saturday after leading 186 of 200 laps. He also won the Camping World Truck Series race here earlier this month. Busch was hoping to score his first Sprint Cup victory at this 1.5-mile racetrack.
"It's just catastrophic engine failure," said Busch, who finished 38th after leading 65 laps. "It seems to be that time of the year again. I hate it for all of my guys. It's so frustrating to see it end short like that and not get the finish that we needed."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had his motor expire at the same time as Busch. Earnhardt had smoke pluming from the back of his car, which caused a four-car accident in turn 3 on lap 259. He finished one spot behind Busch in 39th.
"I had smoke in the cockpit for three laps, and I smelled something burning and thought it was a rubber buildup on the header or something," Earnhardt said. "Then I started losing power on my last lap before it broke. I found the water and oil mixed together, and that's never good."
The race was red-flagged for the third time after a hard multi-car crash occurred on the frontstretch on lap 327. Aric Almirola and Martin made contact, causing Almirola to bump into Jeff Gordon and put him into the outside wall. Martin took the blame for the incident.
"I just went three-wide, and I got squeezed in there," Martin said. "There just wasn't quite enough room in there. I hate it."
The red-flag time for that wreck, involving seven drivers, lasted for just 10 minutes.
"I got under Mark off of turn 4, and I was almost clear of him and down next to the grass, but I think maybe he just misjudged and clipped me in the rear- rear corner panel," Almirola said. "It's unfortunate, and I know that he probably didn't mean to do that."
Brad Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion, and Danica Patrick had a run-in on lap 320. While running in a tight pack of cars following a restart, Patrick tried to avoid making contact with her boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but Patrick bumped into Keselowski, which put both of them into the wall.
Keselowski damaged his car beyond repair and finished 36th, while Patrick ended up 15 laps off of the pace in 29th.
Earlier in the day, Keselowski was in attendance for the Indianapolis 500 before heading back to Charlotte for the race. He was there to support Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves, Will Power and A.J. Allmendinger, a part- time Sprint Cup competitor who made his first start in the Indy 500. Tony Kanaan won the race for the first time in his 12th attempt.
Debris on the frontstretch led to the 11th and final caution on lap 386. During the caution, Kahne opted not to pit and remained the leader, while the other frontrunners, including second-place Harvick, came in for new tires. Harvick made a two-tire change and came out of the pits first. He ran second to Kahne for the restart.
Harvick, who is in his final year with Richard Childress Racing before heading to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season, beat Kahne to the finish line by 1.5 seconds for his second victory of the season and the 21st of his Sprint Cup career. He won the April 27 race at Richmond.
"Just a great night," Harvick said. "(Crew chief) Gil (Martin) made a great call at the end. We were able to put ourselves in position and survive until the point of when it was time to go."
When Harvick won the 600-mile race at Charlotte for the first time two years ago, he did so by taking the lead from Earnhardt on the final turn of the last lap when Earnhardt ran out of fuel.
"Obviously, you want to run as fast as you can, but it really doesn't matter until the end," Harvick said.
Kahne had the strongest car throughout the race, leading the most laps with 161.
"We had a great car from the drop of the green," he said. "It was definitely our race to lose, especially those last hundred laps. We just thought that some of the guys would stay out (during the last caution). I think there's three cars that just pitted within the last couple laps, five or six laps. We just felt like they'd stay out, and that would be a big enough buffer to someone who had two or four tires that we could get away. Didn't happen."
Kurt Busch overcame a battery issue earlier in the race to finish third, while Denny Hamlin, the pole sitter, and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five.
"Well, it was a good 550 miles it seemed like for us, and then the normal something has to pop up, some adversity we have to overcome came about," Busch said. "It came about this week in a dead battery. I'm a little shell-shocked still, trying to find the exact words, because I'm always judged on my reaction instead of my actual performance."
Ryan Newman took the sixth spot, followed by Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Ambrose.
Jimmie Johnson, who won the all-star race last weekend at Charlotte, finished five laps behind in 22nd after he was involved in a five-car crash on lap 335. Johnson lost control and spun coming out of turn 4 when he and Matt Kenseth had made contact. Juan Pablo Montoya then clipped the back of Johnson to cause more damage to his car.
Johnson now holds a 32-point lead over Carl Edwards, who finished 11th.