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Scott Fowler: ‘Unbelievable’ just about sums up race outcome

Scott Fowler is a national award-winning sports columnist for The Charlotte Observer.

CONCORD There have been 600-mile races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that were as uneventful as driving 600 miles on an interstate highway in your own car with only the radio for company.

Sunday night wasn’t one of them. Sunday will instead be remembered as one of the most bizarre Coca-Cola 600s in the event’s 54-year history. Only the winner was conventional, as Kevin Harvick was victorious for the second time in three years.

But the rest of those five-plus hours? I’m still trying to sort out what I saw. That was about as bizarre as a NASCAR Sprint Cup race can get, headlined by the nylon rope that fell from the sky, injuring 10 people, damaging several racecars and causing a race delay of about 27 minutes.

The rope was a TV camera cable that was once attached to Fox Sports’ overhead camera. It broke and – although the camera itself thankfully did not come crashing down because of two other ropes that held it in place – caused more damage than you might think some pieces of a black nylon rope would ever cause.

Three of the hurt fans had to be transported to area hospitals, although none of their injuries were too serious. They were all released without having to spend the night. The TV cable also entwined itself in some cars and thumped others as they sped by.

Said Harvick of the dangling cable: “The first time I drove by I said, ‘My career is over, my eyes have (gone bad).’ I saw this streak go by me. What in the hell was that?”

“I thought the cable was unbelievable,” said Kasey Kahne, who looked like he was going to win but finished second after Harvick’s pit strategy proved best. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I came around turn four, saw it wrapped around Kyle’s car, hit mine. I thought I was seeing things. There’s no way there could be a cable on the racetrack. By the time we got to turn one, I saw Kyle’s car, his fender, his car went down – like it jerked it down… . We came back around and people were still hitting it.”

Fox Sports first seemed to almost ignore the fact that it had committed the cardinal sin of interrupting the very event it was supposed to be covering due to its own equipment failure. And this was a very significant development in the race. The cable actually hit and damaged the leader’s car at the time (Kyle Busch) and then caused a caution flag and two red-flag delays totaling about 27 minutes.

Fox Sports later tried to redeem itself after about an hour of that sort of behavior with an apology, a statement of concern for the fans and some inconclusive replays. The network did promise an internal investigation, and you can wager at the end of that one the camera itself won’t be the only thing suspended. The results of that investigation need to be made public, too.

One nightmarish thought: Can you imagine if that had happened in an NFL game? Fox regularly uses that sort of overhead camera for football telecasts. What if a wayward cable had wrapped around Cam Newton’s leg as he was dropping back to throw and torn up his knee?

The whole idea of the overhead camera at sports events must be seriously revisited now.

Because no one was too seriously hurt, though, it does seem a little funny with the benefit of hindsight. Where was Larry the Cable Guy when you needed him?

The cable wasn’t the only thing that was strange. Far from it. Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrecked. Jeff Gordon wrecked. Danica Patrick wrecked in an incident that may have been caused by her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Sparks literally flew for most of the last hour of the race. Kurt Busch looked ready to win and then sustained a dead battery with no Triple-A truck in sight. Busch ended up third.

As Fox Sports announcer Darrell Waltrip, a former racer himself, tweeted early Monday: “Oh what a night, one of the weirdest races I’ve ever been a part of, so sorry about our camera and the fans that were hurt, unbelievable.”

Yep. That about sums it up.

Scott Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler
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