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Harvick wins 600 as dry tank fuels Junior's drought

May 30, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service,

CONCORD, N.C -- You didn't have to open a Superman comic to find Bizarro World -- Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway had all the strangeness a fan of cosmic weirdness could hope to find.

Kevin Harvick, a driver who wasn't a factor for 600 miles, won the race when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas a half-mile from the finish line after the event went to overtime for the first time in its history.

* Final Laps | Victory Lane | Reactions

And despite the victory, Harvick still can't stand racing at Charlotte.

"Even though we won, I'm still miserable," Harvick said after the race. "In about 30 minutes, I'll be happy, when we drive out of that tunnel and leave the month of May behind."

Earnhardt ran out of gas in sight of the checkered flag, breaking the hearts of fans who were certain until the last moment that Earnhardt was about to break a 104-race drought.

Instead, the dry spell reached 105 when Earnhardt coasted across the finish line in seventh place.

"[Sunday] we were lucky," Harvick said. "I told them at the beginning of this thing that we haven't fixed this thing in two weeks, there's no way we're going to fix it [Sunday]. Nothing against this race track -- I just don't like racing here. It just doesn't feel right. ... I griped and griped and griped all freaking day long about how terrible it was. I just have a bad attitude here, so hopefully this helps."

Earnhardt said he would have been lucky, too, if he had won the race.

"We weren't supposed to win [Sunday night]," Earnhardt said. "We played our hand, and those other guys came in [for fuel]. 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. I'm disappointed we didn't win. I know all our fans were disappointed to come so close.

"We were a top-five car. This was our Vegas car, and it's really, really good, so we'll keep taking it to race tracks and running good. We were so fast at the start of the race, and once the sun went down we kind of went back. We ran good [Sunday night]. I'm proud. I'm proud of my guys, and I'm proud of the car we unloaded."

David Ragan posted a solid runner-up finish, but most of the rest of the top 10 was a ragtag mob of underachievers, at least on this night.

* Caraviello: Real progress for Earnhardt | Ragan outlasts for career-best

Joey Logano went down a lap during a long, early green-flag run but made it to the finish line in third place after using two free passes to get back on the lead lap.

Darlington winner Regan Smith also used a free pass to regain the lead lap and came home eighth during the major reshuffle that occurred before and during the green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the race to 402 laps and 603 miles, the longest event in NASCAR history.

Denny Hamlin finished 10th after his crew changed the carburetor on the No. 11 Toyota under caution on Lap 299 -- without losing a lap. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., at one point two laps down in his Cup debut, came home 11th after taking full advantage on NASCAR's wave-around rule, which allows drivers to make up a lap under caution if they're willing to forgo a pit stop.

Hamlin, at least, had a fast car at the end of the race, but the cars that excelled early and racked up laps were nowhere near Harvick when he took the checkered flag. Matt Kenseth, who led a race-high 103 laps, finished 14th after stopping for fuel on Lap 393. Carl Edwards, who led 61 laps, couldn't extricate himself from race traffic in the late going and ran 16th.

Kenseth had led 101 laps before coming to the pits under caution on Lap 233.

Divergent pit strategies under that yellow scrambled the field and mired Kenseth and Edwards in traffic for a restart on Lap 245. Kyle Busch cleared Ambrose for the lead moments after that restart and retained it -- save for a cycle of green-flag pit stops -- until Landon Cassill's wild slide through the frontstretch grass caused the 10th caution of the race on Lap 295.

Busch led the field to a restart on Lap 302, but he chose to pit under caution on Lap 307 -- along with Kenseth, Hamlin and Stenhouse -- after a three-car wreck in Turn 3 off the restart lap, involving Mark Martin, David Gilliland and Ryan Newman, slowed the race for the 11th time.

Restarting deep in the field on Lap 311, Busch made little progress. Ultimately, he caused the 12th and 13th cautions of the race, first sliding through the grass in the tri-oval on Lap 318, and then spinning off Turn 2 on Lap 343.

* Videos: Cassill in the grass | Three-car wreck | Back-to-back spins for Busch

Jeff Gordon had the lead when the field came to green on Lap 349, but Greg Biffle grabbed the top spot one lap later and stayed there until caution for Jimmie Johnson's blown engine brought out the 14th caution on Lap 396. Biffle was forced to pit for fuel under yellow on Lap 399 and handed the lead to Kasey Kahne when he came down pit road.

Kahne ran out of fuel just after the restart, opening the door for Earnhardt. But Earnhardt didn't have enough fuel to complete the extra two laps.