Kevin Harvick Once Again Stars As ‘The Closer’
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
Concord, N.C. – In three victories this year Kevin Harvick has led only nine laps; an accomplishment that has resulted in him garnering the nickname “The Closer.”
For one victory he overtook five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on the final lap. The other two came at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s expense. The first was at Martinsville Speedway in April when Harvick passed the third generation driver with four laps remaining. The second occurred Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600 when Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet ran out of fuel on the final lap and Harvick passed him for the victory. In a few hundred feet, Earnhardt Jr.’s winless streak was extended to 105 races and Harvick jumped three positions in the standings to second, just 36 points in arrears to leader Carl Edwards.
Ironically, it was the second time on Sunday the race leader had faltered in the final turn on the final lap. Just hours earlier in the Indianapolis 500, the National Guard-sponsored car piloted by rookie J R Hildebrand had slammed into the fourth-turn wall and second-place Dan Wheldon had taken the victory. At Charlotte, it was a lack of fuel that cost Earnhardt Jr.’s National Guard-sponsored car the win.
“We weren’t supposed to make it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We were gonna run out of gas and we knew it. I tried to save a ton of gas. I didn’t save enough, but I tried to save as much as I could. I’m disappointed we didn’t win, but if we would have won, it would have been a gift.”
It was no secret in the Coca-Cola 600’s closing stages that fuel conservation on the 1.5-mile track was
critical. Even Harvick’s crew had figured after his final stop that he would be one and a half laps short. With the laps winding down and a green-white-checker finish eminent due to Johnson’s Chevrolet blowing an engine with five laps remaining, it was a Richard Childress Racing train that made the difference. At one point during the 14th and final caution period, Harvick cut off the engine in his RCR Chevrolet and was pushed by teammate Jeff Burton, who in turn was pushed by teammate Paul Menard. While Burton and Menard assisted Harvick, leader Greg Biffle pitted for fuel.
When the race restarted for its green-white-checker finish, Kasey Kahne led, Earnhardt Jr. was second, Denny Hamlin third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Harvick fifth. Kahne elected to restart on the outside and as they charged into turn one, Keselowski hit Kahne in the rear, the cars stacked up and Burton slid sideways as Earnhardt Jr. shot into the lead. It appeared to the delight of the crowd that Earnhardt Jr. would return to victory lane for the first time since June 2008 at Michigan.
With only 1.5-miles remaining, Earnhardt Jr. possessed a healthy lead. Harvick, who was third, shot around Hamlin as his Toyota sputtered on the backstretch. Then, in turn 3, the engine in Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet shut off and the victory was passed to Harvick.
“I feel so stinking bad for him; I know how bad he wants it,” Harvick said when asked how he felt about Earnhardt Jr.’s loss. “I think everybody sitting up here would say we want the 88 to win. They’re so close to winning and both times they had a chance to win. We are going to do what we have to do to win the races and today it all just worked out strategy-wise that we won the race.”
Childress, who won six championships with Earnhardt Jr.’s father, agreed with Harvick that he would like to see Earnhardt Jr. win, but not at his team’s expense.
Since being thrust into the Cup Series a decade ago after Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the
2001 Daytona 500, Harvick has won the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the All-Star race and now the Coca-Cola 600. However, despite winning the latter two at Charlotte, the 35-year-old California driver says he’s miserable at the track.
“In about 30 minutes, I will be happy when we drive out of that tunnel and the month of May is over,” Harvick said after the Coca-Cola 600’s 52nd edition. “When we pull into Charlotte I apologize before I even get to the race track because there’s nothing … this is a great race track. It’s a great facility and I know everybody loves coming here because it’s close to home.
“For me, it’s been a struggle since day one of my career. Well, I shouldn’t say that. We finished second the first time I came here and that was about it. For me, it’s just been that thing in my mind, that one race track that just frustrates the hell out of me that I can’t figure out. I just need to have a better attitude.”
Harvick noted that crew chief Gil Martin was always aggressive with his approach to a race, but he believed the team took it to another level Sunday, as far as utilizing strategy that was a “little bit outside the box.”
“It seems like over the past couple weeks you’ve got to be more aggressive and you’ve got to take more chances if you’re going to win,” Harvick continued. “You can finish seventh or eighth, but if you’re going to win the race you’re going to have to take some chances when all the cautions start coming out.”
It’s taking those chances that has turned Harvick into “The Closer.”
– Deb Williams can be reached at email@example.com Comments