It is the longest race on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit and Casey Mears is lucky that it wasn't a half mile longer. Mears took the lead in the Coca-Cola 600 with six laps to go and stretched his fuel mileage just enough to claim his first Nextel...
It is the longest race on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit and Casey Mears is lucky that it wasn't a half mile longer.
Mears took the lead in the Coca-Cola 600 with six laps to go and stretched his fuel mileage just enough to claim his first Nextel Cup Series win. Mears ran out of gas seconds after taking the checkered flag.
"I can't believe it," he admitted in victory lane.
Mears came on strong late in the race after starting 16th. He spent most of the day in the top-10 and ran as high as second until the closing laps.
"I can't believe we're in victory lane," said Mears, who joined Hendrick Motorsports this season after four years with Chip Ganassi Racing. He gave credit to crew chief Darien Grubb for the winning strategy.
"He made an excellent call," said Mears, who picked up his second top-10 of the season. "He told me to conserve fuel and that was our game plan. We were a third or fourth place car at best and it was our only way to win it."
The win helped Mears move up to 29th in the standings and gives him some cushion for qualifying next week at Dover.
J.J. Yeley also claimed his career best finish, bringing his Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet home second. He also spent most of the race among the top- 10 and had the fuel mileage to finish behind Mears.
"I feel pretty good," said Yeley, who started 12th. "I wasn't worried a bit. I knew that (crew chief) Steve (Addington) and the guys do an awesome job there. The fuel gage didn't move a bit. I just wish we could have won it. It was an awesome car all night long."
Kyle Petty started 36th, but maintained his spot on the lead lap throughout the race. He spent several laps in the top-10 late in the race and finished third - his best finish in more than a decade.
"Billy (Wilburn) made a great call in the pits and said to conserve fuel," said Petty, who won this race 20 years ago. "My pit crew has stepped things up tremendously. Everything just came together for us tonight."
Reed Sorenson and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five.
Jimmie Johnson was making a bid for his sixth win at Lowe's, which would tie him with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most wins here. He started 21st, but was back in the top 10 by lap 100 and was leading the race by the time the sun was setting midway through the event. He was leading the race when the caution came out on lap 337, but lost nine spots on pit road when his team had trouble with their stop. He was among the lead lap cars that needed a late race pit stop and finished 10th.
Matt Kenseth started in fifth place and spent most of the first half of the race lurking around the top-10. He took the lead for the first time from Jimmie Johnson on a re-start on lap 227 and led a total of 50 laps. It was the 10th race that Kenseth has led this year. He was strong on restarts late in the race, but took right side tires and fuel with 20 laps to go and finished 12th.
Nearly half of the field was involved in a series of early cautions, including a spectacular crash that took out points leader Jeff Gordon.
Greg Biffle brought out the yellow for the first time when he cut a tire and crashed heavily into the wall between turns one and two. Then on lap 53, A.J. Allmendinger got into Johnson which caused a 16 car pileup behind them that included Elliott Sadler, who started third.
On the ensuing restart, Tony Raines got loose and got into Gordon's Chevy, which was knocked into the infield and then shot back into the racing lane. As he hit the outside retaining wall, he was t-boned by Allmendinger and his car was briefly airborne. Gordon wasn't hurt, but his day was finished.
"It wasn't really that hard," said Gordon, who failed to finish at Lowe's for the fifth straight time. "The car got up in the air a little bit. It was a spectacular wreck unfortunately because man what a racecar we had. I was having a blast out there."
Toyota enjoyed its best showing since joining the sport's top level this year.
Vickers started his sixth race of the season in 26th, but worked his way to the front and led 76 laps through the midway point of the race, giving his manufacturer its most laps led in a Nextel Cup event. He relinquished the lead under caution on lap 224 when he came in to pit to have his team correct a power steering problem. The extra time on pit road sent Vickers back to 12th place for the restart, but he was back up to third place by lap 253. He was running in the top-10 when he cut a tire and hit the wall in Turn 2, but he rallied for his first top-5 finish of the season.
Jeremy Mayfield also had his Toyota running up front. He started 24th, but led three laps after winning the race off of pit road during yellow flag stops on lap 253. Kenseth grabbed the lead once the green flag dropped. Mayfield stayed in the top-10 until his motor expired with 16 laps to go.
Carl Edwards was running third when he slowed for a flat tire on lap 221. He lost control slowing for the caution and collected his Roush Racing teammate David Ragan and Bill Elliott, who was making his first Nextel Cup start of the season. Edwards stayed on the lead lap and rallied for a 15th place finish.
With team owner Roger Penske in Indiana for the Indianapolis 500, his stock cars driven by Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch shared the front row for the Coca- Cola 600 and combined to lead the first quarter of the race.
Newman sat on the pole for his 200th Nextel Cup start and led the first nine laps of the race before yielding the lead to Busch, who paced the next 102 laps. Newman exited the race on 173 with an expired motor. 12 laps later, Busch lost the handle on his car and backed into the wall in Turn 2. He wrecked again on lap 299, ending his bid to win from the front row.
"I don't know what to think," said Busch, who led a season-high 107 laps. "We had a good car early, but I have no idea why it was so bad at the end."