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Harvick, RCR Know Cookies Can Taste Quite Good

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 10 2013

Richard Childress and his No. 29 car and driver will be looking for a second-straight victory at a 1.5-mile oval this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Over the years, NASCAR’s 1.5-mile ovals have been treated by fans and media with the type of disrespect generally accorded to things like rental cars and F-1 races. They’ve been tagged as dull and generic. Cookie-cutters is one of the nicer things the intermediates have been called.

But in the garages and race shops, 1.5-mile ovals – or tri-ovals or quad-ovals or whatever other sub-category they tend to be inserted into – these tracks are treated with as much respect as the superspeedways and short tracks.

Especially at this time of the year – the Sprint Cup playoffs.

Half of the 10 Chase races are on 1.5s. And, this weekend, the Cup teams will be racing on an intermediate for the second straight week as the Chase moves to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500.

All of this can bode well for teams that have recent histories of doing well at 1.5s. And in 2013, and that means it bodes well for Joe Gibbs Racing and its Toyotas and Richard Childress racing and its Chevrolets.

Those two teams have won all of the races at 1.5s this year.

The Gibbs cars, with Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch leading the way, have won the most events at intermediates. But the RCR car of Kevin Harvick has won two 1.5 races which are key to current Chase circumstances.

Harvick won the 600-miler at Charlotte in May and he won last weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Mention these things to Harvick or his crew chief, Gil Martin, and you get a couple levels of answers.

First, you will get the answer about how good it is to have been fast at Charlotte and Kansas.

“I think today is more positive for us than any other race we’ve been to all year,” Harvick said after Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, “just for the fact that we were at a mile-and-a-half racetrack that had a lot of circumstances, and being comfortable, more comfortable than everybody else I guess you could say, driving the car and having the speed that it had I think shows the gains that we’ve been able to make since that race.

“You know, I think the confidence in the team and the car and the mile-and-a-half stuff is good.”

The second level of answer includes the word “but”.

“The bottom line,” Harvick said, “is you can have fast cars, but it’s going to come down just like it did at the 600. You’re going to have to have the right strategy to go along with everything as the day unfolds.”

“That’s just it,” Martin said. “It is extremely hard to win on these mile-and-a-half tracks because you’ve got to be looking at gas mileage, you’ve got to be looking at where you’re going to be at the end of the race.

“When we go to Charlotte, when we go to Texas there’s going to be a completely different set of circumstances, so the things you did here today are not going to be there, so you’ve got to be open and ready for whatever kind of change happens.”

Last season, success at 1.5s was spread around among several teams with none dominating.

But two years ago, Tony Stewart, who had not won a single race heading into the Chase, won the Cup championship on the strength of winning three of the five Chase races at 1.5s.

Harvick and RCR have worked their way back into contention this year by winning Kansas – they moved from fourth to third in points and to within 25 of Chase leader Matt Kenseth.

The big prize is now in sight.

“We’ve just got to keep doing what we did today to be a contender,” team owner Richard Childress said. “I don’t think top 10s will win a championship when you’re racing Jimmie Johnson and the group of guys that’s up there. We’ve been there before, and hopefully this time we can pull it off.”

A win Saturday to sweep this year’s Cookie-Cutter Micro Marathon will go a long way in helping Harvick and Childress pull it off in 2013.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 10 2013
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