The Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup race has always been a marathon – not a sprint – and this race was no different as obstacles kept coming throughout the evening. But when the checkered flag fell, Kevin Harvick stood victorious.
The win – his second in the series in four races – fell into Harvick's hands when Kasey Kahne elected not to pit during the final caution period. Harvick, as well as the rest of the other drivers on the lead lap, elected to pit for tires for what would be the final 12-lap run.
"It was a good strategy call there," Harvick said. "The 5 (Kahne) stayed out and we were able to have a little fresher tires to get ahead of him on the restart."
Kahne, who dominated much of the race, was a "sitting duck" when he declined to pit during a caution flag with 14 laps remaining and lost the lead and the race to Harvick.
Harvick won the race for the second time in the past three years. Kahne won it last year and was going for a record-tying fourth win in NASCAR's longest race.
Kahne, meanwhile, was lamenting what might have been after dominating much of the race and having the fastest car all weekend. He said he said he expected only a few drivers to pit during the final caution period.
"But that didn't happen," he said. "The whole field pitted and we were in a tough spot. I knew Kevin would be good; he was fast all weekend. … We raced all day and thought we were in a really good position at the end. We just didn't get it done."
Kurt Busch finished third despite leading when the race was red-flagged late in the race for a multi-car crash. When the race resumed, Busch's car would not start because of a dead battery and he had to pit, losing valuable track position.
He rallied to finish third but was disappointed with the outcome for his small, single-car team.
"I'm still shell-shocked," he said. "We picked up the lead and the battery went dead. I don't know what to think about that. We battled back and got third. You have to be perfect to win these things and we were close but we weren't quite there."
Matt Kenseth dominated a portion of the race, leading by as much as six seconds at one point, but fell back in the pack and was taken out when Jimmie Johnson wrecked with less than 70 laps remaining.
“You shouldn’t have been back there to start with,” said crew chief Jason Ratcliff to console Kenseth, who had led 112 laps prior to the wreck. "That’s how one bad call can snowball right there. We were just getting it back, getting a shot at it.”
Johnson was racing Martin Truex Jr. when he lost control of his car and spun, and then Kenseth and Juan Pablo Montoya collided. Paul Menard and Tony Stewart also were involved. Johnson, the points leader, wound up finishing 22nd.
NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., had an engine failure, bringing out a caution flag on Lap 258. When smoke billowed from Earnhardt's car, it led to a wreck behind him as Greg Biffle slammed the wall and Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil crashed behind the No. 88 car.
And that wasn't the last crash.
Danica Patrick was racing three-wide with boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski when Stenhouse appeared to drift up into Patrick, who slammed into Keselowski.
Keselowski, who finished 36th for his fourth straight poor finish, took the blame for the incident – leaving him with his first DNF (did not finish) since the 2012 Daytona 500. Although Keselowski was never a factor at Charlotte, his 36th-place result plummeted his team three spots to 10th in the standings.
"Just three-wide with Danica and didn't know it and cut her off and wrecked her and myself," Keselowski said. "I feel bad for her and want to apologize to her."
With Sunday's victory, Harvick climbs to seventh in the points standings. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 83 points. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
Jimmie Johnson retains the lead in the Sprint Cup Series standings by 32 points over Carl Edwards. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins after Race 26. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Dover on Sunday, June 2 (1:00 p.m. EDT, FOX, MRN Radio and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90).