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Kevin Harvick finds right time to lead, wins bizarre Coca-Cola 600

Sunday night, NASCAR’s longest race of the year also tried to claim the moniker as most bizarre.

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, May. 26, 2013

The Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR’s longest race.

Kevin Harvick, however, might have the fewest laps led in securing his two victories in the event.

Harvick, who led just two laps in winning the 600 in 2011, led only 28 Sunday night while holding off Kasey Kahne for his second Sprint Cup Series victory of the season.

“To win at Charlotte is something that we had to overcome for a long time,” said Harvick, who is nicknamed Happy. “We kind of won it on gas mileage last time, but we just went and won it this time.

“We had a good strategy there. (Kasey Kahne) stayed out (and didn’t pit) and we were able to have little bit fresher tires. We got in front of him on the last restart.”

Kurt Busch finished third, Denny Hamlin was fourth and Joey Logano was fifth.

Series points leader Jimmie Johnson finished 22nd.

Sunday night, NASCAR’s longest race of the year also tried to claim the moniker as most bizarre.

The race was delayed nearly a half-hour after a nylon rope, which was part of a Fox Sports television camera, snapped and fell on the track and into the Turn 4 grandstands on Lap 121.

Kyle Busch was leading when the rope cut into his No. 18 Toyota like a knife. Part of the rope was also caught up under the Ford of Marcus Ambrose.

“I didn’t see anything, I just heard a big ‘thunk’ on the right-front tire and thought the right-front tire blew out. That’s how hard it felt and what it felt like,” Busch said.

“It did have an effect of slowing my car down and I could feel it like, ‘Whoa. That’s weird.’ ”

CMS officials said 10 fans were injured in the stands. Seven were treated and released for minor cuts and scrapes and three were taken to nearby hospitals.

The rope was a guide for the Fox Sports CamCat overhead camera system, which moves over pit road and the frontstretch during the race.

NASCAR granted all teams 15 minutes to make any repairs needed from the incident before the race was restarted on Lap 131.

Teams began a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 176 and when they were completed on Lap 180, Matt Kenseth had moved into the lead ahead of Kyle Busch, followed by Hamlin, Kahne and Kurt Busch.

At the halfway mark of the race, Kenseth continued to lead followed by Kyle Busch, Kahne, Kurt Busch and Hamlin.

On Lap 258, Kyle Busch appeared to blow his engine and nearly at the same time smoke billowed out of the No. 88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt’s car dumped oil on the track, which then caused a wreck involving Dave Blaney, Greg Biffle and David Reutimann.

All of the lead-lap cars elected to pit except leader Kenseth, and he remained in the lead on the restart on Lap 267, followed by Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Johnson.

Kahne made his way back into the lead on Lap 274.

Just as teams were beginning a round of green-flag pit stops, the race’s sixth caution came about, this time for debris. Both Johnson and Gordon had just pitted and were caught a lap down.

Johnson received the free pass to return to the lead lap but was called for speeding on pit road.

On the restart on Lap 310, Kahne led the way followed by Kurt Busch, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

Landon Cassill slapped the wall and debris from the incident brought out the seventh caution of the race on Lap 312. On the restart on Lap 319, Kahne led the way followed by Kurt Busch and Truex.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit Danica Patrick, who ran into Brad Keselowski, which brought out the eighth caution of the race on Lap 320. Just before the caution, Kurt Busch had moved into the lead, and he led on the restart on Lap 325.

One lap later, a seven-car accident erupted as the field entered Turn 1, collecting Gordon, Mark Martin, Aric Almirola, among others.

“Three-wide, you shouldn’t be doing that. We get away with it a lot, but that’s an awful high speed place to be trying to do that,” Martin said.

The race was stopped for nearly 10 minutes so NASCAR could clear the track of debris. On the restart on Lap 332, Harvick moved into the lead as then-leader Kurt Busch was forced to pit when his car wouldn’t restart after the red flag.

On the next lap, Johnson spun in Turn 4 which also collected Kenseth, Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Menard to bring out the 10th caution. On the restart on Lap 339, Harvick led the way followed by Logano and Newman.

Two laps later, Kahne powered his way ahead of Harvick and back into the lead.

A final round of green-flag pit stops were completed on Lap 382 but didn’t alter the rundown, and Kahne remained out front.

Debris on the frontstretch brought out the race’s 11th caution on Lap 385. Kahne elected not to pit but the rest of the lead-lap cars pit for tires and fuel. On the restart on Lap 390, Kahne stayed in the lead followed by Harvick, Newman, Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.

Before one lap was completed, Harvick, on fresh tires, powered around Kahne to take the lead.

“There were a couple guys who had just got tires, and we thought they would stay out with us,” Kahne said. “I didn’t think it would be a big deal. That didn’t happen - the whole field pit. We were in a tough stuff. I bet if we had pit, some of them don’t.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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