“Nothing about this race track [Charlotte], I just don’t like racing here. It doesn’t fit what I do – when I pull in the gate I just have a bad attitude here. In about 30 minutes, I’ll be happy, when we drive out of that tunnel and leave the month of May behind.” So said Kevin Harvick seconds after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That’s the man they call Happy Harvick.
The man entitled to dislike the place had to be Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was leading the race as it passed its full distance for a green-white-checker finish. Having endured an 104 race winless streak Earnhardt was on course for the long overdue win that, if nothing else, would placate Junior Nation, the most dedicated and loyal fans in motorsport who steadfastly support their man through his trials and tribulations and who consistently vote him the fans’ favourite.
At the green flag on lap 400 Earnhardt headed the field alongside Kasey Kahne who promptly ran out of fuel and caused some bumping and spinning in the pack behind. That left the no. 88 heading off on his own and with a healthy lead at the white flag and just one lap to go. Through turns one, two and three Junior Nation were in full voice cheering Earnhardt home but in turn four, just five hundred feet from the checkered flag the Chevrolet engine spluttered as the fuel ran dry. So near, yet so far as the clichÃ© goes – Earnhardt was credited with seventh place.
The pandemonium behind Kahne’s faltering car at the restart which saw Jeff Burton‘s Chevrolet spinning down to the infield and Brad Keselowski‘s Dodge ripped open on one side caused the night’s controversy when it was realised from laps 1 to 399 NASCAR would have called a caution for debris on the track but at lap 400 decided to allow the race to play out. The rules state a maximum of three attempts at a green-white-checker finish; this was the first attempt. As Harvick said in the post-race press conference a driver’s opinion about whether the yellows should have been shown would always depend on whether you lost or gained from it. On this night Harvick was naturally content with NASCAR’s decision.
Greg Biffle had a night of mixed emotions. From the very start he was complaining of an electrical failure in the car which would need to be fixed. It took time to understand the failure was the small air-conditioning unit which pumps cool air into the driver’s crash helmet. Poor communication between crew and driver during the pit stops did nothing to ease Biffle’s patience or discomfort as he was running near the rear of the pack.
Eventually, with the air-con changed during a caution period pit stop Biffle applied himself to the job in hand and from lap 350 led the race. In fact, if Jimmie Johnson‘s no 48 Chevrolet hadn’t blown its engine on lap 395 Biffle would have been well placed to win after enduring such a torrid start. The caution flags thrown to clear the oil from the track meant the race was going to exceed the scheduled distance and Biffle was forced to pit for a splash and dash. He was to finish in thirteenth place.
Denny Hamlin in the FedEx Express Toyota was another to suffer maladies through the race complaining of engine electrical problems. Eventually the fault was correctly diagnosed and the Joe Gibbs Racing team managed to change the carburettor on the car without losing a lap – a creditable achievement if ever there was one. Hamlin rewarded his crew with a tenth place which was enough to get him in to the vital top twelve in the points table.
Hamlin’s teammate, Kyle Busch, who had led the race for a total of 55 laps ruined his night’s work with, not one, but two excursions across the grass. In the first he became the only driver who survived such a trip without wrecking the car – although there are no gullies or manholes in the infield something in its topography tears the front off race cars – but he was never going to get away with it twice.
The reality of the result of round twelve of the Sprint Cup Series is that most of the top ten lucked into their positions through others’ misfortunes and that includes Happy Harvick. The driver of the no. 29 Chevrolet is the only driver to have won three races this year. For his first win, at Fontana, he led precisely one lap. He led six laps a week later at Martinsville to win there. Last night he led two of 402 laps. He jumped three places to second in the championship table, 36 points behind leader, Carl Edwards, who had a fast car at the start of last night’s race but faded once darkness descended to finish sixteenth.
The top ten behind Harvick, the others with good fortune on their sides, were David Ragan, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, A J Allmendinger. Marcos Ambrose and Regan Smith finished either side of Earnhardt and David Reutimann took ninth ahead of Hamlin.
Special mention must be made of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who is rapidly earning a reputation as a super-sub. Stepping in once again for Trevor Bayne, but this time for his dÃ©but drive in the Sprint Cup Series the 23 year old Stenhouse brought the no 21 Wood Brothers Ford home in a magnificent eleventh place, just one week after his first win in the Nationwide Series.