Winners and Losers from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Charlotte
"Have you ever?" "No, I've never."
If those two phrases have ever been applicable to a Sprint Cup race, chances are it was Sunday's Coca-Cola 600, when some of the strangest incidents in recent memory lengthened what is already the sport's longest race.
The strangest came before the sun even set, when a FOX overhead camera cable fell onto the track and into the grandstand, injuring 10 fans and tearing up multiple cars. The incident necessitated a red flag period and forced NASCAR to make the rare decision to allow teams to work on their cars.
From there, multiple incidents took out some of the race's favorites, from Jimmie Johnson to Brad Keselowski, while engine failures eliminated Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. from contention as well.
In the end, race winner Kevin Harvick didn't seem to win the race so much as he survived it, leading 28 of 400 laps on the way to his second win of the season. But who else came out of Sunday's race on top, and who else was left shaking their head?
Winner: Kevin Harvick
He started 15th and wasn't one of the favorites all night—he didn't even lead until the 500th mile of the race—but Harvick was good when it counted, as he so often is, on Sunday.
When Kasey Kahne decided to stay out late, Harvick pitted for the fresher tires that proved to be the difference at race's end. He held off Kahne and Kurt Busch for the victory, his second of the 2013 season, and climbed three spots in the standings to seventh.
With two wins in the first 12 races of his final season at Richard Childress Racing, Harvick now seems like a lock to leave his old team with a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth.
Loser: Overhead Camera Cables
You just can't make this stuff up.
In perhaps the weirdest incident at a NASCAR race since Juan Montoya hit the jet dryer at Daytona last year, a camera cable fell onto the track almost a third of the way through Sunday's race. When run over, the cable acted like a can opener on Kyle Busch's car, tearing up the right side.
NASCAR had to wave the red flag after numerous drivers found themselves running over the cable, with Busch (then the leader) and Marcos Ambrose getting the worst of it. Many fans also found themselves injured by the falling cable.
Former driver Rick Mast, however, added some perspective to the incident for the drivers:
Sewer line busted once at Charlotte, sewage was across back straightaway. Cable breaking ain't nothin.— Rick Mast (@rickmast22) May 26, 2013
Winner: NASCAR's Judgment Calls
After a couple of recent failures in the penalty appeals process, NASCAR needed some credibility as far as rule enforcement went within the context of a race. At Charlotte, they got it.
In response to the camera cable incident, NASCAR first waved the red flag. Then, they allowed cars to make one lap before giving teams a 15-minute break, allowing them to do work.
Though the opportunity wasn't limited to teams affected by the cable, leader Kyle Busch was able to repair significant damage from running it over. Then NASCAR reset the field as it was before, allowing Busch to retain the lead.
The powers that be tackled the problem quickly and came up with a solution that was both reasonable and fair to all, and for that, they deserve a ton of credit.
Loser: Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch overcame early adversity in the form of the fallen camera cable, as his crew performed a miraculous 15-minute repair job on the shredded right front fender of the No. 18 Toyota. But that wasn't enough to keep him in the race until the very end, as a blown engine knocked him out of the 600-mile race.
The results were disappointing, to say the least. Busch finished a dismal 38th, 143 laps short of the finish. He also dropped out of the top 10 in points, barring some sort of penalty to one of the drivers in front of him.
Though Busch may have two wins and six top-10s in his first 12 starts this year, he also has three DNFs and blown potential victories in each of the past two points-paying events.
Winner: Mental Toughness
A 600-mile race is a unique opportunity for NASCAR drivers to exhibit their toughness and stamina, but some drivers have to do a little more work than others when they come into a race with an illness.
At Charlotte, a sick Kasey Kahne had to receive multiple IVs before Sunday's race, while Denny Hamlin was only two weeks removed from his return to the sport after a broken back.
It didn't seem to affect either of them all that much.
Kahne was the class of the field all night, leading 156 laps on the way to a hard-fought runner-up finish; like so many leaders late in a race, he elected to skip a pit stop while the rest of the field took a pit stop for tires and couldn't hold on.
Meanwhile, Hamlin finished fourth, leading nine laps and proving that he can run up front and challenge for the victories he'll need to make an underdog charge for this year's Chase.
Loser: Brad Keselowski
On the 100th day since winning his first Sprint Cup championship, Brad Keselowski did the closest thing to running both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 of the entire field. He spent the first part of Indy in Roger Penske's pit before flying out to Charlotte to make it to the mandatory drivers' meeting.
But if Keselowski hoped that Indy, where Penske has seen victory lane 15 times as an IndyCar team owner, would bring him good luck, he was sadly mistaken. A crash with Danica Patrick eliminated Keselowski from winning contention, relegating him to a 36th-place finish.
The good news for Keselowski is that he'll be back with crew chief Paul Wolfe next week at Dover after Wolfe's two-race suspension expires. The bad news is that his average finish without Wolfe was a frustrating 34th.
Winner: Twitter Users
Fans looking for some extra entertainment during Sunday's race might have been lucky enough to catch an impromptu Twitter Q&A session with H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, one of NASCAR's most legendary promoters. The former Charlotte Motor Speedway hype man wasn't afraid to speak his mind over the course of the night:
“@mac640sp: Should NASCAR incorporate more technology, like push to pass, DRS? ” the less tech the better. Lets go back to the carburator.— Humpy Wheeler (@HumpyWheeler) May 26, 2013
Loser: Scott Speed
Luck can change quickly, as evidenced by Scott Speed's recent change of fortune. After winning his Global Rallycross debut at X Games Brazil and following it up with a ninth place finish at Talladega, Speed skipped the Sprint All-Star Showdown for another GRC event, only to see it get rained out. He was the first driver to star-and-park on Sunday.
The silver lining for Speed: He'll be doing a lot less parking for the rest of the year. Leavine Family Racing has secured enough money to add 10 more races to his schedule, while he remains the GRC points leader and looks set to add more races to his schedule there. Expect the past two weeks to be an aberration for the ex-Formula 1 driver.
Winner: Wood Brothers Racing
It doesn't matter where they ended up in the finishing order. Wood Brothers Racing notched its 1,400th Sprint Cup start at Charlotte on Sunday with Trevor Bayne behind the wheel of its No. 21 Ford.
From start No. 1 to this one, the Woods (Glen, of the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, and Leonard, who was inducted in 2013) have put 20 of NASCAR's most legendary drivers in their cars. Even as they've shifted to a limited schedule in recent years, they've maintained a level of competitiveness, as shown by Bayne's victory in the 2011 Daytona 500.
They pioneered the pit stop, predated many of the rest of the teams in the sport and outlasted the original form of Petty Enterprises (though the No. 43 lives on). And with 1,400 starts now under their belt, it's hard not to hope for them to have 1,400 more.
Loser: Fans of "The Double"
The idea of a driver running "The Double," or competing in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, has picked up steam once again recently. A.J. Allmendinger finished seventh at Indianapolis on Sunday, while Kurt Busch has his IndyCar license after testing with Andretti Autosport earlier in the month.
But according to NASCAR's Brian France, "it's not on our front burner" to work with IndyCar to make it possible for a driver to compete in both races on the same day.
It's a shame. John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon were among those to attempt both races on the same day before shifting start times rendered the feat geographically impossible. But the idea of winning both races is so alluring that Bruton Smith once offered $20 million to any driver who could score both wins on the same day.
NASCAR may be confident enough in its ability to generate interest without adding this gimmick, but when it's one of their own looking to conquer Indy—unlike the others to run both races, Busch was a stock car driver first—dismissing the possibility is a missed opportunity.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.
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