By JENNA FRYER
AP Auto Racing Writer
CONCORD, N.C. (AP) – With his job presumably on the line, Casey Mears stretched his fuel to the finish line Sunday night to win the Coca-Cola 600 for his first Nextel Cup victory.
Mears, struggling through his first season at elite Hendrick Motorsports, ran strong all night at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, but only took the lead when Tony Stewart ducked onto pit road for a splash of gas.
Mears and his team gambled and pushed the Chevrolet to the finish, running out of gas moments after taking his first checkered flag. It was Hendrick’s fifth straight win and the ninth in the past 10 Nextel Cup races, but came from the unlikeliest driver.
And it put a Mears back in Victory Lane on the biggest day in racing for the first time in 16 years.
Mears is the nephew of Rick Mears, a four-time Indianapolis 500 champion.
J.J. Yeley, like Mears considered one of the drivers in jeopardy of losing their ride to make room for free agent Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished second for the first-top five finish of his career.
Kyle Petty was third – his first top five in 10 years – and Reed Sorenson was fourth. Brian Vickers was fifth in the highest finish this season for Toyota.
In fact, the top five all celebrated their best result of the year.
Stewart, who seemed to have the win in the bag after Jimmie Johnson gave it away in the pits, wound up sixth.