By Shaun Burke
The most well-known streak in NASCAR almost came to an end in the 2011 Coke 600. Instead, NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was silently coasting to pit road while Kevin Harvick celebrated his third win of the season.
After exciting finishes in the Grand Prix of Monaco and the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR had big shoes to fill with their version of the Memorial Day Classic. Luckily for fans, the race didn’t disappoint.
There were 38 lead changes amongst 21 drivers in a race that actually ran 603 miles.
Harvick won after leading just two laps. He was followed by David Ragan, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger. Junior, who led until the end of turn four of the final lap finished seventh.
Junior made his final pit stop with about 55 laps to go and was told by his crew chief Steve Letarte that he was good to the end. Over the final 55 laps, Junior ran third about one second behind leaders Greg Biffle and Kasey Kahne. With just four laps to go, Junior’s team mate Jimmie Johnson’s engine blew up brought out the caution setting up a Green-White-Checker.
Unfortunately for several drivers, Johnson oiled down the track resulting in a lengthy cleanup. Leader Greg Biffle pitted when the field got the one to go to green due to running out of gas. When the field got the green on lap 200, Kasey Kahne’s car sputtered and Brad Keselowski smashed into the back of him. In the aftermath, the car of Jeff Burton was spinning and debris was all over the track. NASCAR did not to throw the caution and the field continued to race towards the checkers. Junior took the white flag and appeared to be well on his way to cruising to his first victory since 2008.
As Junior was headed down the backstretch for the final time his car visibly began to slow. Coming off turn four Junior’s car was silent. Harvick and several other cars passed Junior.
A favorite coming into the race, Kyle Busch had a week he would soon like to forget. After dealing with controversy involving his excessive speeding violation, Busch spun twice on his own and did not finish the race. His finish standing in the race was 32nd.
Points leader Carl Edwards had a disappointing finish of 16th after leading early in the race. Fortunately for Edwards, five time champion Johnson finished 28th after a blown engine. Edwards actually expanded his points lead to 36 over new second place running Kevin Harvick. Johnson, Junior and Kyle Busch round out the top 5.