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TGIM: Harvick And The Late Show

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, April 4 2011

Kevin Harvick has always been a driver who benefitted from late, but timely, moves on the race track. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Thank God it’s Monday:

The plan, Kevin Harvick says, is not to pick up bonus points for leading the most laps in Sprint Cup races. The plan, he said, is to pick up victories. Thanks to dad, it’s always been that way for him, he says.

The plan has worked to near perfection the last two weekends.

At Auto Club Speedway and then again Sunday at Martinsville, Harvick opted to mingle during the droning, meaningless early and mid-race lapfests. He blended in so well with the middling masses that he became afterthoughts.

Until go time.

At Auto Club, he moved up and took the lead with a lap to go and went on to win. At Martinsville, he apparently succumbed to uncontrollable antsyness and took the lead with five laps to go before driving to the victory.

“My dad always told me the pay window didn’t open until the checkered flag was flown,” Harvick said late Sunday, “and we survived and raced off of what we won each week. My first year, I tore my late model up and we only got to run seven times because he wrecked it every other week. The second time we wrecked one time and we won the championship because we were always around at the end and would take advantage of other people’s mistakes. I guess it’s just the way I was taught to race. You have to be around at the end to win these races.”

Of course, spending large amounts of time in the middle and rear of racing packs comes with

The late pass of their driver disappointed Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Kelly Pope)

problems. That’s where the squirrels live and where wrecks occur.

And, from the sound of it, on Sunday, Harvick really didn’t have much of a choice on where he would like to be on the track vis a vis the leader. But he was where he wanted to be at the end and because of that, he gave Richard Childress Racing a rare Martinsville victory.

“I don’t know why it’s always been that way, really throughout my whole career, and today it worked in our favor,” he said of mingling. “Our car was bad at the beginning and I had a ton of brakes left at the end and that was really our strong point was getting in the corner.”

Team-owner Childress was positioned alongside of Harvick as he said all this. And he was smiling.

“You know,” Harvick said, “I can remember Richard leaving a race in 2001 from Sonoma, and we had wrecked – do you remember this? He left the race. Because we had an accident and we came back and I think we finished 9th or 10th or 11th or something like that. The next day I get a call and it’s like, how in the hell did you guys come back and finish 11th from 23, 24, wherever it was.”

Just Harvick’s late-blooming style.

ID, please

It sure looked like Kyle Busch walking around the infield at Martinsville after Saturday’s Camping World race and Sunday’s Sprint Cup race. I mean, who else, this side of Mardi Gras, would walk around in a yellow jumpsuit with M&Ms plastered all over it?

But it didn’t sound like Busch. Especially in situations where, in the past, there has been no sound at all coming from his mouth.

Twice in two days at Martinsville – home of the most over-rated hot dog in the Virginia-North Carolina border region – Busch was caught and passed late in the race and deprived of victory.

Kyle Busch took disappointment like a man over the weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

On Sunday, a fellow driver actually put the bumper to Busch to move him out of the way on the final laps.

After that race, Busch was asked about the bump by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the subsequent third-place finish.

“Yeah, I was holding him up,” Busch said, probably letting down media members in their blood hunt. “I sucked. So it was good for him. I mean, he took the lead. No harm, no foul.”

In years past, NASCAR would have had to send a security guard with a breaker bar, cattle prod and soapy water to squeeze Busch out of the exile of his hauler for the obligatory post-race media session. This year, Busch walked into the presser under his own power and was pretty pleasant.

Two opposing thoughts on Busch and his new-found maturity: It will either make him a better driver, one who can control his emotions in tight spots; or, it will take his edge off and slow him down.

It can work both ways in sports.

Whatever. To the guy in the yellow jumpsuit we say; I don’t even know who you are anymore.

Streaking onward

Out in Las Vegas over the weekend, hopes for going undefeated in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series collapsed for one team but continued on for another.

Pro Stock driver Jason Line had arrived at The Strip for the Summitracing.com Nationals with two victories in the first two events of the season.

He said in a phone chat last week that he really did not expect to go 22-0 this season but hopes were high that he would go 3-0 in Vegas.

But after qualifying No. 2 on Saturday, Line stumbled in the second round of eliminations on Sunday.

Line’s 6.733-second, 206.10 mph effort fell shy of overcoming his Greg Stanfield’s 6.696-second,

Robert Hight kept John Force Racing on a high in Vegas. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

205.04 mph pass, putting a premature end to his day.

“Today just was not our day,” Line said. “My Summit Racing Pontiac wasn’t happy all weekend, and never ran as well as we liked, but it certainly could have been worse.  We qualified well, we won a round, and will leave here with the points lead. The important part is that we learn something from this race, and use it to move our program forward.

“To be honest, our biggest mistake of the weekend was not running well enough to keep lane choice.  At this track, lane choice is often the difference between winning and losing, and we saw that again today.  It’s unfortunate, because Bruton Smith’s tracks, including this one, are by far the best on the circuit, but that right lane has had issues for as long as I’ve been racing here.

“But that’s not why we lost.  We lost because we didn’t do a good enough job to stay in the other lane.  We were all over the map, never getting our car to where it was consistent, and that is what we are going to work on between now and Charlotte.  Since I’m obviously not going to win them all this year, I guess I’ll just have to shoot for 21 out of 22.”

But one streak continued on at Vegas. Robert Hight captured the Funny Car portion of the event to give John Force Racing a perfect 3-0 record on the season.

Hight and teammates John Force and Mike Neff will, appropriately, attempt to go 4-0 when they competed in the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. next time out.

So, how’s confidence for that?

It’s drag racing, baby, Hight said.

“I don’t know how much confidence there is in our pits because it is not getting any easier,” he said. “It is just a lot of hard work is really what is paying off for us. If you let your guard down just one little bit then you are going to get beat. I had close side by side races every round. Johnny Gray (whom Hight edged in the finals Sunday) stepped up in the final and made his best run of the weekend against us. If you look at it on paper you think back it off a little bit, be safe, go down the track and get the win. We would not be in the pressroom right now if we would have done that.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, April 4 2011
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