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Harvick’s Victory Brings Back 3 Emotions

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 8 2020

Kevin Harvick honored the memory of Dale Earnhardt by giving the three-finger salute after his win at Atlanta Sunday.

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

HAMPTON, Ga. – When Kevin Harvick claimed his first NASCAR career Cup victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway three weeks after Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001 the three of them became intertwined forever.

The then 25-year-old Harvick’s surprise victory helped heal the aching hearts at Richard Childress Racing. On Sunday, the now 44-year-old Harvick became the oldest driver to win at the 1.540-mile track since Earnhardt visited victory lane at Atlanta in March 2000 at age 48. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver celebrated Sunday’s win by holding three fingers out of his Ford’s window as he drove a reverse victory lap.

“I think as you look at being able to go back and win another race here and celebrate the life of Dale Earnhardt, everything that he meant to our sport in the right way, each time we’re able to come here is obviously pretty special for me,” Harvick said after his third Atlanta victory.

In reflecting on the 2001 victory, Harvick noted at that time they were just happy to be at the race track and to keep Earnhardt’s team at RCR operating. However, no one expected the young driver, who was to compete full time in the Busch Series (now Xfinity) for RCR, to record a victory in only his third Cup start.

“(There were) lots of emotion in all kinds of different directions (that day),” Harvick recalled. “(You) didn’t know how to celebrate, didn’t know what to say. I was able to celebrate it the right way in 2018 and pay tribute to how much Dale Earnhardt meant to this sport for so many years. To be able to do that same celebration at the same race track 20 years later is pretty special for me. You don’t get the opportunity to do those types of things very often, and now that’s the second time we’ve been able to pay tribute the right way.”

Harvick’s second victory this season and 51st of his career moved him into sole possession of 12th on the all-time win list, breaking a tie with NASCAR Hall of Fame members Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett.

“It’s just a situation that you … shake your head and you’re like, ‘Man, I can’t believe this is happening.’ It’s pretty crazy to think about that,” Harvick said. “I tell people all the time I’m very lucky to drive cars for a living and call it my job, and to be able to have won so many races with a couple of different teams and be able to contend. Winning races is what it’s all about, and to be able to do that is something I’m really proud of.”

Even though Harvick never ran outside the top 10 throughout the 325-lap race, his Ford didn’t show its strength until the final stage when he led 105 laps. Overall, Harvick was the race’s top lap leader, setting the pace on four occasions for 151 laps. 

“Overall, we had a great car,” crew chief Rodney Childers said. “At the beginning of the race the car seemed really good and we were able to get up through there and was looking okay. (Then) the car was too tight and the track was changing really, really fast. We just made some bad adjustments and couldn’t keep up with the race track. Finally, (we) had to kind of take our lumps and do some bigger swings … than what we normally would. (We) just tried to keep up with the race track.”

Martin Truex Jr. swept the first two stages, but adjustments to his Toyota in the final stage weren’t enough to allow him to keep pace with Harvick.

“I don’t know if the track changed or something changed in our car,” Truex said. “(We were) way too tight the last two runs to be able to challenge. I just tried to drive through the push and ended up just pretty much smoking the front tires off it.” 

Truex eventually had to settle for third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.  

NASCAR’s Cup Series resumes action Wednesday night at Martinsville Speedway.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, June 8 2020
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