Happening Harvick: California Coolness Claims Checkers at Charlotte
There's a reason why the pride of Bakersfield, CA is called "The Closer," even if Kevin Harvick's nickname might confuse racing fans with Kyra Sedgwick's hit TNT series.
As the checkered flag was waving, race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car sputtered as it ran out of fuel, relinquishing the first position and handing the victory to Harvick and his No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet.
To the victors go the spoils and to the defeated comes the agony of a win just less than a quarter of a mile's reach.
For Harvick, his third win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season was important, allowing him to have a step up above two-time race victors Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
His victory was pivotal as it translated to a possible shot to being the points leader in the Chase, at least giving him a great position in the playoff standings come September.
Harvick noted how the intermediate tracks don't suit his driving style, which seemed hardly noticeable as his crew feverishly worked all race long to get his car handling to optimum condition.
"We were lucky," Harvick said per AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer's race recap. "It's nothing against the race track, I just don't like racing here. It just doesn't fit what I do."
Ultimately, as the laps wound down and on the final restart of the night, the only green-white-checkered flag reboot of the Coca-Cola 600 was all that Harvick needed to just be in a position to play spoiler on Sunday night.
Indeed, Harvick would play his part quite perfectly, nabbing the lead as Earnhardt's No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet ran out of fuel coming off turn four.
Earnhardt realized the situation at hand during the final laps, even as he assumed command of the lead on the final restart.
"We weren't supposed to make it," Earnhardt said. "We played our hand. I tried to save a ton of gas, as much as I could.
"I'm disappointed we didn't win. To come so close. But if we had won that race, it would have been a gift."
In what was a wild Sunday of Memorial Day weekend racing, the Coca-Cola 600 culminated a frantic day of action in which the race-winning pass was made on the last corner during the final lap.
Although Earnhardt's defeat wasn't nearly as devastating as JR Hildebrand's runner-up heartbreak finish occurring earlier in the day during the Indianapolis 500, it will be like that last lap wallop with the wall in turn four for the Kannapolis, NC native.
Sunday night's Coca-Cola 600 lived up to its reputation as a race of adjustments, as it appeared like the Roush-Fenway Racing quartet of David Ragan, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards had equally solid chances at winning the longest race of the season.
However, once the sun set and the nighttime skies blanketed over Charlotte Motor Speedway, it became anyone's race.
Red Bull Racing's Kasey Kahne nearly won the 600-miler in his No. 4 Toyota before placing 22nd in the race, hardly indicative of his performance all evening long.
Even Jeff Gordon and his No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevy came to life late in the race, leading 19 laps before slipping back to 20th, the first car to finish a lap down to race winner Kevin Harvick.
Meanwhile, Roush's arsenal of Ragan, Biffle, Kenseth, and Edwards finished second, 13th, 14th, and 16th, which barely little semblance to how stout their Ford Fusion cars ran before the wild conclusion of the 600.
Ragan nearly cashed in on capturing his first Cup points paying race in a crown jewel event, but settled with a runner-up result.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Regan Smith, David Reutimann, and Denny Hamlin.
Logano and Busch put together solid race finishes which were sorely needed in their somewhat middling 2011 campaigns.
Hamlin survived a night where he could've easily finished his race prematurely before his team replaced the carbureator towards the final stretch.
Finishing just outside the top-10 included Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who took home the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford in an impressive 11th place finish, Juan Pablo Montoya (12th), Clint Bowyer (15th), Tony Stewart (17th), Brian Vickers (18th), Jimmie Johnson (28th, DNF with engine failure), and Kyle Busch (32nd).
There were 19 leaders who traded the first position 39 times, with Kenseth leading the most laps (103).
Here's a look at the unofficial top 10 points standings as the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams prepare to hit up the Kansas Speedway for the inaugural running of the STP 400 (Live next Sunday at 1 PM ET on FOX):
- Carl Edwards (Ford/Roush-Fenway, 1 win)
- Kevin Harvick (Chevy/Childress, 3 wins)
- Jimmie Johnson (Chevy/Hendrick 1 win)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Chevy/Hendrick)
- Kyle Busch (Toyota/Gibbs, 2 wins)
- Kurt Busch (Dodge/Penske)
- Matt Kenseth (Ford/Roush-Fenway, 2 wins)
- Clint Bowyer (Chevy/Childress)
- Tony Stewart (Chevy/Stewart-Haas)
- Ryan Newman (Chevy/Stewart-Haas)