Coming into the day the leader in the standings, Kevin Harvick had the opportunity to become the first driver locked into the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Starting from the eighth spot, it did not take the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet long to find the front of the field. Racing the majority of the day in the top-four, Harvick stayed out late and was able to move around Denny Hamlin to score his third win of the season and lock himself into the Chase.
When the caution flew for debris on Lap 169, most of the leaders headed to pit road. However, when race leader Tony Stewart stayed out, crew chief Gil Martin made the call to stay out as well. Harvick was one of six cars that did not pit – the others being Stewart, Hamlin, Regan Smith, Scott Speed and Reed Sorenson – and once the race restarted the battle for the win came down to Harvick and Hamlin.
Riding the high line around the 2-mile track, Harvick was able to get a huge run off the second corner and down the backstretch. With Harvick closing, Hamlin did his best to adjust his line and hold him off. That worked for a while, but with ten laps to go Harvick was finally able to clear the No. 11 and drive off to the checkered flag.
"It has been a great year for us,” Harvick said. “Last year was a tough year. To start the year off with winning the Shootout and then win three more races and now to win on a down force track where we have been so close to winning so many times this year is important. At the end of the year, we have got to make it happen in the last 10 weeks and that is what we are trying to prepare ourselves for."
To the No. 29 team, there was no question whether or not so stay out during that final caution flag period.
“I had somebody right here next to me that would have killed me if I would have pitted,” Martin said of his driver after the race. “Clean air was a big bonus today. With Tony staying out, knowing we had somebody to draft with, then hopefully a lot of guys would get two in between us, and they d the way everybody fanned out, it almost gave a parachute effect to the back portion of the field, that the tires couldn't overcome the aero push. Not having any cautions at the end led us to where we could stretch out.”
The win was the third of the year for Harvick, his first non-restrictor plate win since Phoenix in 2006 and the first time team owner Richard Childress had been to Victory Lane in Michigan since 1990 with the late Dale Earnhardt. One year after a devastating season, the RCR organization has emerged as one of the teams to beat for this year’s title.
“I think the reason for it is we were so damn bad last year,” Harvick said of RCR’s turnaround. “That's probably the reason. For everybody to know that and work towards getting better, it all started in Indianapolis last year. Everybody in every department, and Richard was on 'em pretty hard, along with everybody else.”
The race between Hamlin and Harvick at the end of Sunday’s race was one not only for the trophy, but also for larger Chase implications. Although Harvick is the points leader, Hamlin has five wins and 50 bonus points once the Chase starts. Sunday’s win not only locked the RCR driver into the Chase, it also now gives him 30 bonus points.
"I think it is important just for the fact that they won the first race here,” Harvick said of Hamlin. “Obviously they have won five races on the year and they are going to be somebody you are going to have to race down the stretch. It is a lot of fun racing the way we did today. He took my line away a couple times and I was able to move down and find another line and then eventually get by him on the top.”
“It was a battle, for sure,” Hamlin said. “We are trying all we can to get 10 more bonus points, but Kevin (Harvick) had a really strong car. It showed all day. We just kind of snuck up there. I knew we had a good car, but we never had really good track position. We were just hanging around eighth or 10th all day. I knew the capabilities of the car once we got out front. Mike (Ford, crew chief) made a great call to stay out there and luckily it gave me a shot to win it anyway.”
While 2009 might have been one of the toughest years for ‘Happy’ Harvick, 2010 is shaping up quite nicely. Earlier this year, Harvick inked a multiyear deal to remain at RCR and on Tuesday it is expected to be announced that Budweiser will join the No. 29 team for 2011. Only three races remain before the Chase field is set, and Harvick has wins at each of those tracks. With the way this team has been running and with Sunday’s win, it appears Harvick will not only be a serious threat for the title, but could easily enter the Chase with as many as 60 bonus points.
“I said at our luncheon, ‘Somebody has to beat Jimmie (Johnson ) this year, and it might as well be RCR,’” Childress said. “You never say, ‘We're the team to beat.’ You got to have confidence, but so many factors play in. We know we're going to be a contender. That's all we can ask for is to be a contender. If we're that, we'll have a shot at winning it.”
OTHER MICHIGAN NOTES:
Big day for Roush Fenway Racing, just not big enough
With team owner Jack Roush back at the track for the first time since his plane crash on July 27, the RFR teams were on a mission to win one for the ‘Cat in the Hat.’ Coming up just short, three of the four Roush teams finished in the top-5 and all four of the teams finished in the top-11.
Greg Biffle was one of the strongest cars all weekend, leading the most laps in Sunday’s race. However, the No. 16 Ford lost the handling in the middle stages of the race and Biffle was never able to recover to be a serious threat in the end. In the closing stages of the race, Carl Edwards’ No. 99 came on strong, propelling him to a third place finish. Matt Kenseth was able to use a bit of pit strategy and had things go his way en route to his first top-5 since Dover in May. Also, David Ragan actually made a pass for the lead after staying out when the leaders pitted. Following that call to stay out, Ragan was able to stay in top-10 for most of the closing stages of the race. He held on to finish 11th, his third top-15 in the last five races.
Joey Logano and Ryan Newman Have Confrontation
During the middle stages of the race Joey Logano was trying to work under the No. 39 of Ryan Newman. Unable to make the pass after trying lap after lap, Logano bobbled and made contact with the left rear of Newman’s car, sending him sliding down the track to bring out a caution.
Following the end of Sunday’s race, the two drivers found each other in the garage and discussed their contact. The discussion quickly escalated to a confrontation with Logano apparently questioning Newman’s style of racing. Logano appeared to brush his hand across Newman’s chest, which prompted the Stewart-Haas driver to push Logano away. NASCAR officials stepped in and Logano walked away.
“I was asking him why he races everybody so hard all the time. I'm not the only one who says that every week. Of everyone out there, he's the hardest one to pass. I don't understand why,” Logano said. “That's kind of how this (racing) – I've found – that it works: If you give someone respect, you get that back. But he just races everyone hard. He raced his boss, Tony Stewart, hard. I don't understand it, but he's been doing it a lot longer than me. I tried to talk to him about it, but I don't know. I didn't get nowhere.”
Newman declined to comment but was heard telling officials, “I’m good. I’m just trying to teach the little kid how to drive.”
(Newman-Logano picture courtesy of Bob Pockrass Twitter: @bobpockrass)
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