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AUTO RACING

Kevin Harvick wins Coca-Cola 600 as Dale Earnhardt Jr. runs out of gas on final turn

Harvick captures NASCAR's longest race of season, while Earnhardt falls to seventh.

May 29, 2011|By George Diaz
  • Kevin Harvick celebrates on Victory Lane after winning the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday.
Kevin Harvick celebrates on Victory Lane after winning the Coca-Cola 600… (Jason Smith / Getty Images…)

Reporting from Concord, N.C. — It was a rough Memorial Day weekend for National Guard cars chasing victories.

Hours after rookie J.R. Hildebrand crashed on the final lap of the Indianapolis 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chevy ran out of gas as he approached the final turn, allowing Kevin Harvick to zip by him to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night.

The finish Sunday night wasn't quite as dramatic as the one in Indianapolis in the afternoon, but it was still stunning, especially when the man who ran out of gas -- and luck -- happens to be the most popular driver on the NASCAR circuit.

"I'm disappointed we didn't win, but if we had won that race it would have been a gift," said Earnhardt, who coasted to a seventh-place finish. " We were lucky to get out of here with anything after running out of gas."

David Ragan, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Lowes Chevy went up in smoke with four laps to go, bringing out the 14th caution of the night. It set up the wild finish in which Earnhardt seemed poised to break a winless streak that stretched over 100 races and dates to June 15, 2008.

It was a night of attrition in the longest race of the NASCAR season, with a flurry of drivers getting caught up in the bump and grind.

Jamie McMurray was the first front-line driver to drop out, after his Chevy had an engine failure. McMurray lasted 181 laps.

"The car ran really well all night, and it ran really well on the restart," he said. "It wasn't hot, the oil temp wasn't hot. Something broke big in the motor. You can break valve springs and stuff and kind of baby it the remainder of the race. But whatever broke just then was really big."

Halfway through the race, nine drivers had taken a swipe at the lead, with 17 lead changes all together.

Paul Menard was the next driver to have problematic issues, when his car spun out of control and down the apron, catching Martin Truex and Brian Vickers in the crazy flurry. All were able to get back to racing.

And then Landon Cassill went airborne into the infield grass with 104 laps to go, as he got tangled up with Regan Smith. He was OK, but his car was done for the night.

Next up: David Gilliland and Mark Martin got jammed up into the wall, as Martin's car got the brunt of it on the inside portion. Ryan Newman was part of the collateral damage.

"It's a shame," Martin said. "Everybody was working hard and wanted to finish these things off."

Said Gilliland: "Tough way to end a good night."

gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com

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