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“The Closer” wins at Charlotte as Earnhardt runs out of gas

If you watched the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday, you saw two of the wildest finishes ever, and to see two races like this on the same day was really one for the books.

Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 was the 100th annual running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The race certainly lived up to its billing this year. They really rolled out the nostalgia: they brought out the winning car from the first ever Indy 500, and former 500 winner Parnelli Jones turned a few laps in the antique racecar.

There was an interview with the 93 year-old son of Ray Harroun, the winner of the very first Indy 500. Then there was the matriarch of the speedway’s ownership family, Mary Hulman George, in a convertible with A.J. Foyt at the wheel at the front of the field and waving to the crowd

during the pace lap. Ms George has got to be every bit of 90.

The race itself had something for everyone. For the first time in several years the race was not all about the Penske and Ganassi teams. There were constant, frequent, lead changes. Racing’s media queen, Danica Patrick, led about twenty laps towards the end of the race, but had to stop for fuel.
Fuel mileage became a big deal and eliminated several contenders at crunch time. As the laps wound down, 23 year-old rookie J R Hildebrand found himself in the lead. But on the final turn of the final lap Hildebrand crashed into the wall. Veteran driver Dan Weldon cruised the final 500 yards for the win; Hildebrand’s demolished car slid across the finish line in second place.

The second race of the day, The Coca-Cola 600, was all about strategy and once again gas mileage played a big role. Kevin Harvick, who wasn’t a factor for 600 miles, won the race when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the final turn of the final lap of a green, white checkered finish. Harvick led just two laps at Charlotte Sunday, taking the lead on the final turn of the final lap.

Sunday’s win was the third of the season for Harvick. In each race he has come from back in the pack to take the win in the closing stages of the race. At Auto Club Speedway, Harvick passed race leader Jimmie Johnson on the final lap. At Martinsville, he stalked Dale Jr., and took the lead with just four laps to go.

Even with the win, Harvick can’t stand racing at Charlotte. “When we pulled into Charlotte, I apologized before I even got to the race track. It’s a great facility, and I know everybody loves to come here because it’s close to home.

“For me, Charlotte has been a struggle since day-one of my career. So for me it’s been that thing in my mind: that one racetrack just frustrates the hell out of me that I can’t figure it out.

“Today we were lucky,” Harvick said. “I griped and I griped all freaking day long about how terrible the car was. I just had a bad attitude, so hopefully this helps.”

Dale Jr.’s fans were ecstatic at the prospect of his 104 race winless streak coming to an end, only to have their hearts broken when his car ran out of gas within sight of the checkered flag.

Earnhardt said he would have been lucky, too, if he had won the race. “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 of our fans were disappointed to come so close.”

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