CONCORD, N.C—You didn’t have to open a Superman comic to find Bizarro World—Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway had all the strangeness a fan of cosmic weirdness could hope to find.
Kevin Harvick, a driver who wasn’t a factor for 600 miles, won the race when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas a half-mile from the finish line after the event went to overtime for the first time in its history.
And despite the victory, Harvick still can’t stand racing at Charlotte.
“Even though we won, I’m still miserable,” Harvick said after the race. “In about 30 minutes, I’ll be happy, when we drive out of that tunnel and leave the month of May behind.”
Earnhardt ran out of gas in sight of the checkered flag, breaking the hearts of fans who were certain until the last moment that Earnhardt was about to break a 104-race drought.
Instead, the dry spell reached 105 when Earnhardt coasted across the finish line in seventh place.
“Today we were lucky,” Harvick said. “I told them at the beginning of this thing that we haven’t fixed this thing in two weeks, there’s no way we’re going to fix it today. Nothing against this racetrack—I just don’t like racing here. It just doesn’t feel right. … I griped and griped and griped all freaking day long about how terrible it was. I just have a bad attitude here, so hopefully this helps.”
Earnhardt said he would have been lucky, too, if he had won the race.
“We weren’t supposed to win tonight,” Earnhardt said. “We played our hand, and those other guys came in (for fuel). I tried to save a ton of gas, but I know I didn’t save enough. I tried to save as much as I could. I’m disappointed we didn’t win. I know all our fans were disappointed to come so close.
“We were a top-five car. This was our Vegas car, and it’s really, really good, so we’ll keep taking it to racetracks and running good. We were so fast at the start of the race, and once the sun went down we kind of went back. We ran good tonight. I’m proud. I’m proud of my guys, and I’m proud of the car we unloaded.”
David Ragan posted a solid runner-up finish, but most of the rest of the top 10 was a ragtag mob of underachievers, at least on this night.
Joey Logano went down a lap during a long, early green-flag run but made it to the finish line in third place after using two free passes to get back on the lead lap.
Darlington winner Regan Smith also used a “lucky dog” to regain the lead lap and came home eighth during the major reshuffle that occurred before and during the green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the race to 402 laps and 603 miles, the longest event in NASCAR history.
Denny Hamlin finished 10th after his crew changed the carburetor on the No. 11 Toyota under caution on Lap 299—without losing a lap. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., at one point two laps down in his Cup debut, came home 11th after taking full advantage on NASCAR’s wave-around rule, which allows drivers to make up a lap under caution if they’re willing to forgo a pit stop.
Hamlin, at least, had a fast car at the end of the race, but the cars that excelled early and racked up laps were nowhere near Harvick when he took the checkered flag. Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 103 laps, finished 14th after stopping for fuel on Lap 393. Carl Edwards, who led 61 laps, couldn’t extricate himself from race traffic in the late going and ran 16th.
Notes: Harvick climbed to second in the Cup standings, 36 points behind Edwards. ... A blown engine dropped five-time champion Jimmie Johnson to 28th at the finish. He lost one spot to third in the standings and is 37 points behind Edwards.