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Harvick steals Coca-Cola 600 from Junior

Now what? We were in green-and-white chequered overtime conditions which meant that the race would run at least two laps longer, and fuel had already been marginal for cars to make it home in the first place. Everyone pulled out every trick in the book to preserve every last drop of fuel under the caution, with Earnhardt Jr. cutting the engine altogether as everyone crawled along the inner apron of the track, taking turns pushing team mates to try and eke out the gas.

For some of the drivers, no trick would do it: Greg Biffle and David Ragan finally had to pit, while Kasey Kahne ended up running dry when the time came for the restart. which saw Brad Keselowski get caught out and end up rear-ending the #4 when the green came out. While Jeff Burton got caught out by the aftermath and spun into the infield, David Ragan and Joey Logano impressively threaded through the mayhem and made up a bunch of positions before anyone noticed what was going on.

At the white flag in overtime on lap 401, it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who had emerged in the lead after an impressive getaway at the restart ahead of the trouble sparked by Kahne running dry. Junior Nation erupted: all he had to do was make it another 1.5 miles and the win was his, an end to a 104-race drought without a trip to victory lane. Surely he would make it? After having seen the leader at the white flag throw it away at the Indianapolis 500, surely we weren't going to get an action replay happen in the final lap of the Coca-Cola 600 as well?

That's exactly what we saw. With some 500 feet to go, the engine of Earnhardt's #88 coughed, spluttered - and died. Somewhat like JR Hildebrand in the Indy 500 the car would eventually make its way over the finish line, but he would be in seventh place by then.

He had been passed by David Ragan, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose by then, but all of these drivers were themselves giving chase to the #29 of Kevin Harvick, a driver who had barely registered all evening and who had led only a single lap during a pit stop sequence. But again, as Indy had taught us just a few hours earlier, you only have to lead one lap of the entire race to win - it just has to be the right lap. When it comes to picking that "right lap", there's none better than the man who has shown time and again that he's deserved the nickname of "The Closer" in NASCAR.

And how did Harvick feel about his race win? Frankly he just seemed relieved for it to be over and behind him, and he couldn't wait to be out of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"Nothing against this race track, I just don't like racing here. It just doesn't fit what I do ... I griped and griped and griped all freaking day long about how terrible it was. I just have a bad attitude here," he said, winning no friends among the locals. "Even though we won, I'm still miserable ... In about 30 minutes, I'll be happy - when we drive out of that tunnel and leave the month of May behind."

Junior was more philosophical. "I'm disappointed we didn't win. I know all our fans were disappointed to come so close," he said, having known all along that the fuel gambit was a big stretch. "We were a top-five car [but] we weren't supposed to win," Earnhardt admitted. "We played our hand, and those other guys came in. I tried to save a ton of gas, but I know I didn't save enough. I tried to save as much as I could."

"It's amazing that we can race 600 miles and it comes down to a green-white chequered finish and fuel mileage," said Kurt Busch, who recorded his best finish so far in a rather lacklustre 2011 season in fourth place. "It worked out, and we made the right calculations to make it to the end of the race," he said, before admitting: "We got lucky ... People were spinning their tires and struggling to get fuel to their carburetor.

"That's the excitement that this sport brings," he said, before gratefully shuffling away to loosen up after spending nearly five hours cramped up in a stock car emphatically not built for comfort.




Related Pictures

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Kevin Harvick and the #29 crew celebrate winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. [Picture credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Kevin Harvick crosses the finish line after passing Dale Earnhardt Jr on the final lap to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. [Picture credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR]
Ryan Newman, Mark Martin and David Gilliland get tangled up on lap 301 during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. [Picture credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR.]
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, qualified for third position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. Larson is 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, won the Pole position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. It was Harvick`s sixth pole win of the 2014 season. He is 7th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick (L), driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, talks to Regan Smith, driver of the #7 TaxSlayer Bowl Chevrolet, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS, finished eighth and Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS, finished 35th Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, finished fifth Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS, finished fourth and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, finished twelfth Saturday, August 23, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Doublemint Toyota, Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 STP Ford, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 23, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, is involved in an incident during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, qualified for seventh position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Busch is 23rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s Chevrolet SS, won the pole position Friday, August 22, 2014 for Saturday evening`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Harvick is sixth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, poses with the pole award after qualifying fastest for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, poses with his wife DeLana, son Keelan, and the pole award after qualifying fastest for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #19 DrawTire Ford, leads Kyle Busch, driver of the #51 Dollar General Toyota, and the rest of the field during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 200 presented by ZLOOP at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 21, 2014 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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