Kevin Harvick survives the chaos

5/27/2013 - NASCAR

CONCORD, N.C. -- From a fallen television cable damaging cars and injuring fans to Danica Patrick having her first direct on-track incident with boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., it was a crazy night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

So it seemed kind of fitting that a lame-duck driver sponsored by a beer company won the longest race of the year sponsored by a soft drink company.

Yes, Kevin Harvick captured the Coca-Cola 600 for the second time in three years, taking advantage of fresh tires over the final 11 laps to beat sitting-duck Kasey Kahne with old tires.

No, he's not rethinking his commitment to drive next year for Stewart-Haas Racing even though he has won two of the past four races and SHR is struggling to get a top-10.

"Right now, we're focused on this year," Harvick said with a big grin. "We go out and race week to week and do the things we need to win races. Whatever happens in the future, we'll work on some other time."

That always has been Harvick's M.O. Focus on the moment and let the rest take care of itself.

It's a formula that has worked well lately in the 600. Harvick won in 2011 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the final lap. He won on this full-moon night because he had two fresh tires that Kahne can only wish he had.

Harvick doesn't let himself think too far ahead, which is an advantage in this race, which requires patience. He's not thinking past trying to win the title for RCR this year.

"This is something that he and I sat down and talked about as men and just have really focused on what's most important for our sponsors and the guys on this team and this organization," Harvick said of team owner Richard Childress, sitting next to him. "That's the most important thing.

"It's too important to the people that put in hours and hours and hours, the people that put in millions and millions of dollars."

But even Harvick admits this was one of the crazier wins of his career.

Where to begin?

While you have to give kudos to Harvick for playing the right pit strategy at the end to beat the most dominant driver, the finish was kind of anticlimactic compared to everything else that happened.

There weren't nearly 68 passes for the lead, as there was in the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day, but there was everything else.

The cable incident is by far the strangest thing the sport has seen since Juan Pablo Montoya ran into a jet dryer under caution at the 2012 Daytona 500.

Kahne thought he was seeing things when he came off Turn 4 and the drive cable that moves a suspended camera over the track was wrapped around the right rear tire of race leader Kyle Busch.

Busch was so shocked when he got the car to pit road for repairs that he borrowed a phone camera, got on his knees and took pictures of the damage.

Harvick? Let's just say he was shocked.

"The first time I drove by … I saw this streak go by me. What in the hell was that?"

Then he came back around and realized like Kahne he wasn't seeing things.

"I always have this thing with my eyes," Harvick said. "It's one of the biggest things we have as drivers. You got to believe in your eyes. I tell myself, 'You got to believe what you saw.'

"I got to the start/finish line, I eased off the gas. I knew what I had seen the lap before, I was hoping it wasn't my last race, I was hoping what I saw was right. I let off at the start/finish line, there was that black streak again. I was looking for it. You could see the cable hanging down."

To NASCAR's credit, it allowed the teams to repair damage without the drivers losing their position on the track. Fortunately, no more than 10 fans were injured and most of those were minor cuts and scrapes.

It also was fortunate that the incident didn't have an impact on the outcome. Busch's engine eventually blew up, but it had nothing to do with the damage that was repaired well enough for him to maintain the lead until he pitted on Lap 175.

It got only crazier from there.

With about 140 laps remaining there was a four-car accident triggered by a catastrophic engine failure in Earnhardt's car. At about the same time Busch's car, which had led 65 laps, blew.

With 81 laps remaining, Patrick was forced up the track by Stenhouse at the same time reigning champion Brad Keselowski was coming down. The chain reaction ended Keselowski's night and left Patrick with a battered car.

Keselowski took the blame, but the tone in Patrick's voice over the radio and replay indicated Stenhouse played a role.

With 75 to go, another big wreck involving three-time 600 winner Jeff Gordon, Aric Almirola and Mark Martin forced the second red-flag stoppage.

Kurt Busch was leading, but when he shut his engine off it wouldn't restart. He had to be pushed back to pit road by a wrecker and dropped to 14th while getting the battery changed.

"The day was going too smooth," Busch radioed. "I knew something was bound to happen."

He meant for his team. Plenty had happened before that and plenty more was to come, including Busch rallying to finish third.

Kahne appeared to have a fourth 600 victory in his grasp until the final caution with 14 laps remaining. When Harvick and everyone else behind him pitted for tires, Kahne knew he was in trouble.

"Oh, boy," he said softly over his radio.

Harvick, one of the best closers in the sport today, was licking his chops and hoping he didn't do anything to blow it.

He didn't.

"I felt like when we came out second [on the final pit stop], everybody had done their job," he said. "They were all like 5-year-old kids looking me as a snack. It's like, 'Don't screw this up. Bud, you're in control of this race.'"

He was, and the final laps lacked any drama once Harvick got into the lead.

"You know, coming into this particular race, it's going to be a long night, you're going to have to survive," Harvick said.

Harvick is a survivor.

He's also a fighter. He's not going to let the distraction of being a lame-duck driver get in the way of his ultimate goal -- to win a title. Neither is his owner, who won six titles with the late Dale Earnhardt, whom Harvick replaced in 2001.

"You know, we're in a business world," Childress said. "In a business world, things happen, changes happen. You do everything you can in the business world. Like I told Kevin, I wish him the best of luck at the end of the year, but right now we got a job in front of us. I honestly think RCR is ready to contend for the championship this year."

The craziness of the night in many ways is no different than the craziness of Harvick's situation.

And it seems kind of fitting that he won on this wild night.