The first big race of the day had it — the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. On the last turn of the Indy 500, rookie J.R. Hildebrand smacked the outside wall and allowed Dan Wheldon to slip past for the win. It was a rookie mistake that will haunt him the rest of his life.
Destiny was just getting warmed up.
Fast forward a few hours to the last two laps of the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in full-bore fuel conservation mode and sitting at the head of the pack. After a late race caution Junior tried every trick in the book to save every drop of precious Sunoco racing fuel. He was one trick short.
“We weren’t supposed to win tonight,” 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 racetracks 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 tonight. I’m proud. I’m proud of my guys, and I’m proud of the car we unloaded.”
Coming out of turn four heading toward the checkered flag Earhardt’s chevy sipped the last remaining ounce of fuel and sputtered to an all out coast. Kevin Harvick and others flew past the slowing Amp Energy Drink machine and Earnhardt drifted to a disappointing seventh. Junior nation missed euphoria by that much.
Davin Ragan followed Harvick for a runner-up finish, the best of his career. Joey Logano took third, Kurt Busch fourth and A.J. Allmendinger slips in for a top five. Australian Marcos Ambrose took sixth, Earnhardt Jr. seventh, followed by Regan Smith, David Reutimann and Denny Hamlin limped into the tenth spot.
It was the third victory of the season for Harvick, who doesn’t even like racing at the North Carolina track. “Today we were lucky,” he 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 today. Nothing against this racetrack—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.”
Defending champion Jimmie Johnson lost an engine late in the race and dropped to third in the standings.
NASCAR moves the show to Kansas for the STP 400 next Sunday on Fox TV.