Harvick pulls off another late-lap win
Where did he come from?
Not even Kevin Harvick seemed certain. That didn’t slow his victory celebration, though.
In a wild finish that kept the tone of the day’s premier races, Harvick steered through the carnage and conserved enough of his fuel to make it to the checkered flag in Sunday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After a race in which he’d complained about his car to his crew, had often been far from contention, and was so worried about running out of fuel that he got a push from a teammate during the final caution, Harvick suddenly found himself heading to Victory Lane.
It was a wild ending in which drivers crashed in Turn 1 of the green-white-checkered finish, then watched as no caution came out, and both Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel while on the lead. Earnhardt held the lead entering the final turn, but slowed with the checkered flag in sight. Harvick saw his opening and took it. He slipped past Earnhardt’s car and stormed across the finish line, taking the improbable victory.
And that’s just fine with him. As the saying goes, it’s not the number of laps led that matters, it is simply who leads at the end of the last one.
No one embodies that cliché more than Harvick. As the race nears a close, competitors start eyeing his Richard Childress Racing car closely.
On this night, everything went right for Harvick.
“If we weren't sitting here with two races won already and the strategy that we played with, the next-to-the-last pit stop coming with only 30 laps left to our pit window, we would have pitted,” Harvick said of earning his third victory of the year. “I might be wrong, but we would have pitted. But the way the pit strategy has been at Dover, has been at Darlington and you've seen these races won, you've got to be aggressive because if you're not, somebody else is. We've talked about that, and two or three times tonight we made pit calls that we wouldn't normally make.
“[Crew chief Gil Martin] is very aggressive, but I think tonight we took it to another level as far as the aggressiveness of staying on the race track and putting two tires on and just doing things that aren't normal for us, that were a little bit outside the box.”
Harvick led exactly two laps in the race, once on lap 345 and again on the final lap. That was enough.
Harvick certainly had not been a contender for much of the race. He started 28th, and then ran outside of the top 10 for most of the night.
“We were lucky,” he said. “I told them at the beginning of this thing that we haven't fixed this thing in two weeks, there's no way we're going to fix it today. Nothing against this race track, I just don't like racing here. It just doesn't feel right."
It should have Sunday night.
It wasn’t until the final 100 laps that he moved solidly into the top 10. He was sixth on lap 400 — the one on which the race was scheduled to end. Two laps later, he was hoisting the trophy after Kahne and Earnhardt ran out of fuel during the extra time. Kahne ran out on the final restart, bunching up the field as cars shot all over Turn 1, with Jeff Burton ending up in the grass after contact among the group.
Harvick came through it clean, as he had in the eight cautions created by crashes in the race. He fought the heat and the competition and even his own car. But it was worth it.
Winning is nothing new to Harvick. He has 17 career Sprint Cup wins and battled for the title last season. He is known as a guy to watch in the final laps — particularly that last one. He further cemented that reputation Sunday night.
Harvick also moved up three spots to second in the standings. And that may be the biggest gain of all.
He’s led nine laps in his three wins this season. He’s pushing the guys who are expected to contend with him for the championship. He and his team are getting better and stronger — and are starting to look increasingly formidable.
So while winning Charlotte was great and could help change Harvick’s attitude toward the 1.5-mile track, was it a sign of even more? It could be, if Harvick and his team continue to work together so well.
It took faith in one another to gamble as they did Sunday night. That faith and confidence were rewarded with the win — and showed just how powerful this team is at this point in the season.
Harvick says that if the group had not won the race, then they would have just gone home and worked on it for the next race. There would have been no regrets, no beating themselves up.
“It's just the chemistry and the way that everybody is on this race team; money can't buy that,” he said. “...You feel everything gel and you feel everything come together and you race for a championship and you do everything that you do. It's not about having the fastest car all the time. Sometimes it's just about believing in everybody around you and putting yourself in position to win.
“And these guys put us in position to win a lot, and we've been able to do that over the past couple years. . . . the championship teams are when you can take a 15th-place car and you can finish fifth with it, and that's what we did today.”
With this win they can afford to continue to do that in the coming weeks before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins. Perhaps that is the greatest thing the group takes from the wild Charlotte race.
“At this point we can be a lot more aggressive,” team owner Richard Childress said. “Three wins should put you in the Chase.”