Harvick holds on to win at Charlotte

Published 12:33 am Tuesday, May 28, 2013

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. Surely, he told himself as he drove by the front stretch, that can’t be a cable hanging down on the track.

“I saw this streak go by me and I’m like, ‘What in the (heck) was that?”’ Harvick said after winning the Coca-Cola 600 for the second time in three years on Sunday.

“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’ve got to believe what you see. I was hoping it wasn’t my last race, I was hoping what I saw was right.”

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It was right. Weird, but right.

Turns out the nylon rope from an overhead camera system used by Fox Sports had snapped and fallen on the track. It messed up a few cars, caused a red flag to be dropped and injured 10 fans — three of whom had to be transported to the hospital.

That was the type of night it was at Charlotte Motor Speedway. And the fact that such a crazy race was run under a full moon only added to the oddity.

It included four multi-car accidents that took out several notable drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick.

Harvick managed to avoid those wrecks and beat Kasey Kahne on a restart with 11 laps remaining to capture his 21st career Sprint Cup victory.

“This is one of those nights you just know going into it you got to grind away lap after lap, just keep yourself on the lead lap, not make any mistakes,” Harvick said.

When Kahne decided not to pit and take on tires at lap 389, Harvick pulled down pit lane and took on two and came out in second place for the restart. He said right then he knew he had the race in the bag.

“The only frame of mind I was in was, ‘Don’t screw up,”’ Harvick said. “I knew they put me in the best position to win the race. You don’t want to make a mistake on the restart.”

He didn’t.

“We needed to get those two tires because I think heads up our car wasn’t as good as the 5 car,” Harvick’s crew chief Gil Martin said. “We definitely needed to get tires at that point. When they didn’t brake to come down pit road, I felt like that gave us a chance to have equal cars with them because they were very strong all night long.”

The race was stopped for nearly 30 minutes when the TV camera support rope snapped and landed along the track and in the grandstands.

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.

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 but the network offered no immediate reason why.

“A full investigation is planned,” the statement said.

Kahne finished second, Kurt Busch third and polesitter Denny Hamlin was fourth in his second full race since returning from injury. Ryan Newman was sixth, followed by Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose.

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.

Kyle Busch might want to look into why he can’t seem to win a Sprint Cup race in Charlotte.

He entered as a favorite after winning the Truck Series event last week and powering to a Nationwide Series victory Saturday. He was in the lead, though, when the nylon guide rope snapped and ran smack over it. Busch heard what he termed a “thunk” and knew he had problems.

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 a series of incidents which ended things for some of NASCAR’s most popular and successful drivers.

Keselowski and 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 Indy 500.

On the following restart, Martin clipped Aric Almirola and set off a six-car wreck that snagged 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 place.

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 collecting Matt Kenseth, who leads the series with three victories this year and led 112 laps at Charlotte.