Race Weekend Central

Kevin Harvick Wins 2011 Coca-Cola 600 as Others Run out of Fuel

CONCORD, N.C. – The sport’s longest race of the year came down to a wild handful of laps during Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (May 29). While Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch led the most laps, it was Kevin Harvick – who led only two laps – that celebrated in victory lane.

A blown motor under the hood of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 car brought out the night’s final caution and set up a green-white-checkered finish. With the majority of the field running on fumes, it was unclear who would have enough fuel to make it to the end.

Under the caution, Greg Biffle gave up the lead as he ran out of fuel and was forced to pit, moving Kasey Kahne to the top spot. Others in the field began shutting their engines off to conserve fuel, while the Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard pushed Harvick’s No. 29 around during the caution.

Restarting the race on the outside, Kahne ran out of fuel heading into turn 1. As Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead, Kahne stacked everyone up behind him. Polesitter Brad Keselowski drove into the back of Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet, sending him sliding down the banking.

Despite the cars spinning in turn 1, NASCAR did not throw the caution flag and Earnhardt Jr. appeared to be on his way to his first victory since 2008.

However, as Earnhardt Jr. ran down the backstretch, the tank ran dry. Coasting through the final corner, Earnhardt Jr. could only watch as Harvick and six others drove past to the checkered flag.

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“I was out on the back straightaway,” he said. “My car just kept up enough speed it didn’t look like it was out. But, I was out. The spotter is like ‘man, they are comin’, they are comin’ and I’m like I’m just crusin’ here, what am I supposed to do? Get out and pedal this thing with my feet? It was a long race and a really hard race and I haven’t ran good here in a long time. We ran really, really good tonight. Real good and I’m real happy about that. The wins are going to come; we just have to keep working.”

While Junior Nation was left disappointed, Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser crew were the ones celebrating in victory lane. Earning his third win of the season, Harvick struggled throughout much of the afternoon, but never gave up and was there when it mattered most.

“When they threw the green flag tonight, we’d fought the same thing for last week and this week, and I said, ‘Well, we haven’t fixed it in two weeks,’ and Gil (Martin, crew chief) said, ‘Well, we’ve got four more hours and we’re going to fix you right up,’” Harvick said. “Usually when he says something like that, it always comes back to haunt me.”

Along with Harvick, David Ragan, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose were also able to get past Earnhardt Jr. – who finished seventh. Regan Smith, David Reutimann and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10.

One of the best cars all day, Hamlin’s 10th-place finish is more impressive considering he battled engine issues throughout much of the race. When an extended caution provided the opportunity, Hamlin’s 2011 Pit Crew Challenge winning team changed the carburetor and kept their driver on the lead lap.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Kenseth was the class of the field for much of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, leading five times for a total of 103 laps. Dominating the first half of the 600-mile event, Kenseth fell back in the pack when the track transitioned into night and the field began using different pit strategies. While he was able to work his way back to the front in the closing laps, Kenseth was forced to pit road with eight laps to go for fuel and finished the night 14th.

One of Kenseth’s biggest threats in those early stages of the race was Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch. Leading twice for a total of 55 laps, Busch’s night was ruined by two single-car spins. The second incident, coming on lap 344, sent Busch behind the wall and ultimately ended his night in 32nd.

“He was pushing it and running right on the edge trying to get it,” crew chief Dave Rogers said. “The [No.] 17 car was the best car all day on that pit stop. He was the only car that could make it up through traffic. We knew we left pit road right behind him and Kyle was trying to stay with him. We didn’t quite have the car that he had. Kyle just tried to do the impossible and that’s why we love him.

“We know he gives us 100% and he doesn’t ever leave anything on the table,” Rogers said. “Tonight he just tried to take a little bit too much and it got away from him. That’s part of racing. That’s why we love Kyle Busch – he only knows one speed – full throttle.”

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 saw 38 lead changes among 19 different drivers and was slowed 14 times by cautions. Next weekend the series heads to Kansas Speedway for the inaugural STP 400.


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