There were not that many cars left to beat, but Kevin Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing No. 29 Chevrolet were able to survive a Green-White-Checkered finish to win the annual 400-miler at the Daytona International Speedway.
After an hour and a half rain delay, Bobby Labonte – who was making his 600th career start – gave the command to fire engines. With the field set by owner points, Harvick led the 43-car field to the green and at the end the night it was the No. 29 that powered across the start-finish line first. Thanks to the rain delay and an extended red flag period, the race carried over into Sunday morning and the stars of NASCAR put on the first firework show of the Fourth of July holiday.
Saturday night’s race saw nearly half the field involved in one wreck or another, 47 lead changes among 18 drivers and nine cautions for a total of 37 laps.
Harvick was followed to the flag by Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Reed Sorenson, Mike Bliss and Scott Speed. David Reutimann, Robby Gordon, Steve Park, Kevin Conway and Matt Kenseth. Labonte ended his 600th start with a bit of damage in 16th, while Clint Bowyer settled for a disappointing 17th.
For Harvick, the win was his second of the year and it helped extend his lead in the series standings. With only nine races before the start of the Chase, he trails both Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin in the win column and is now tied with Kyle and Kurt Busch.
“Same old Daytona, cars moving around and bouncing around, and handling came into play, and you saw a lot of passing and shuffling, and then there at the end we had the big wreck and we were fortunate to be in front of it,” Harvick said. “And really coming to the white I thought it was going to be the 33 (Bowyer) first and us second, and then the caution came out and we could see the white flag. I was content about that. I knew those guys needed a good day, and I knew you never know what's going to happen on the last lap with people pushing and shoving from the back. But on the last restart, once the 24 (Gordon) pulled out and slowed those outside two lines down, that was pretty much the end of it.”
Clint Bowyer, who nearly took the white flag in the lead, wound up 17th after spinning on the final lap of the GWC finish.
As Bowyer led the field to the Start/Finish line, Sam Hornish bounced off Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch and Richard Petty Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler to bring out the final caution of the night. Bowyer opted to restart on the outside lane with Jeff Gordon behind him, and when Gordon jumped to the outside, Bowyer was forced to abandon his run for the win. Shuffled back, Bowyer made contact with Kurt Busch and Reutimann and was sent spinning.
Entering the day 15th in the standings, Bowyer was in need of a strong finish, but his poor luck at the end cost him a chance for the win and much-needed bonus points.
“It was just one of those deals,” team owner Richard Childress said. “I feel bad for Clint and all these guys, but at the end of the day, can't but one of those guys win, and here we are tonight. I'm just glad the way all three of them ran that we were able to come out of there with a win.”
Throughout much of the race the three RCR cars were strong frontrunners and in contention to win the race. All three of the cars – the No. 29, No. 31 and the No. 33 – led over ten laps.
“I'm just proud of everybody at RCR for all the hard work they did to get these cars going,” Childress said. “ECR engines were running great and just proud of them. Proud of Kevin. Kevin is becoming one of these guys that wins the restrictor plate races. He's kind of like Dale, Sr.; you knew he was going to be a factor in it. To have all three RCR cars up there leading the race, racing with each other, it was really cool to watch.”
“I really felt over those last 20 laps I didn't think they could beat us nose to tail with myself and the 33 (Bowyer), and I really thought, like I said, coming to the white, I really thought that was how we were going to finish,” Harvick said. “But we worked really well together tonight. Everybody is getting along really well (at RCR).”
The Really Big One
It happens nearly every time the series hits the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega, and Saturday night’s race was no different. Racing hard towards the front of the field late in the race, Kurt Busch and Jeff Burton made contact on the backstretch. The contact sent Busch sliding down the apron, as the field stacked up behind them it appeared Juan Pablo Montoya got into Brad Keselowski, who hit Reed Sorenson. Enjoying a good run up to that point, Sorenson’s No. 83 Red Bull Toyota slid down into Jimmie Johnson as the rest of the field piled in.
Once the smoke cleared, 19 cars were involved with only 13 laps remaining.
"I saw the No. 12 (Brad Keselowski) and the No. 83 (Reed Sorenson) sideways and I couldn't tell you what else happened,” Ryan Newman said. “I just know I got pile-drived. I saw the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) sideways and myself sideways and up on two wheels. Right place, wrong time as usual for me. You know when the No. 48 is sideways, it probably isn't his fault. All I saw was a blocked race track and I'm on the way to the airplane."
"I saw cars piling up in front of me,” Montoya said. “I tried down and clipped with the right front corner. There is nothing you can do. It is just one of those deals."
Carl Edwards Wrecks Another Penske Car
Earlier this year in Atlanta, Carl Edwards intentionally wrecked Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski, sending him floating through the air and hitting the wall with its roof. After racing hard to the finish with Keselowski’s teammate Kurt Busch, Edwards hit the No. 2 Dodge after the finish. The contact sent Busch into the wall and back down the track where he was hit by Mike Bliss.
Once in the garage, Edwards ran towards Busch in an attempt to discuss the incident. Busch apparently declined, telling the driver of the No. 99 Ford, “Not in front of the cameras.”
“We were just coming to the start-finish line, having a good race, and the 2 car (Busch) for some reason just turned left and hit me,” Edwards said. “I don’t know if he didn’t know I was there or if he did it on purpose, but it seems like he was just frustrated. We all get frustrated when we have a bad day, so I’m sure it’ll be no big deal.”
“It’s obvious we don’t cover racing anymore, we cover drama, but it is TNT,” Busch said. “Carl (Edwards) turned right after the start-finish line and completely destroyed our car. We’ve seen him turn right before and destroy a Penske car at Atlanta with my teammate Brad Keselowski. It’s what it is. We could have limped home in seventh and not damaged like that. That was unnecessary.”
Allmendinger Has Words With The King
Piloting the same car he ran well with in the Daytona 500, AJ Allmendinger was strong again Saturday night. Racing his way into the top-10, Allmendinger’s day took a turn for the worse when he had to avoid making contact with Kyle Busch off the exit of Turn 4.
Allmendinger cut the wheel hard to avoid the No. 18 and spun himself to the inside as a result. With water from the earlier rain still on the asphalt, Allmendinger could not keep from backing the No. 43 Ford into the inside wall.
The team made repairs and sent their driver back out on the track, but Allmendinger took it behind the wall on Lap 90. Apparently after parking his car, team owner Richard Petty attempted to talk with Allmendinger about trying to call it a day. SprintVision screens around the track showed the two in a heated discussion, with Allmendinger turning his back on Petty and storming away.
The crew got the car back out on the track and Allmendinger went on to finish 36th.
"I always say the car owner shouldn't talk to the driver anytime after the race, especially after an accident," RPM VP Robbie Loomis said. "I think Richard's been here so many times, he's been through this stuff and he was just trying to get him to loosen up and let the boys do their stuff on fixing the car and getting back out there. Anytime you talk to somebody at the wrong time, it always causes discussion that needs to be worked out. That's all that happened."
What made this incident odd was the fact TNT missed it entirely. Despite it being broadcast at the track, in the media center and on the radio, the television coverage failed to even mention the fact Allmendinger had parked the car, let alone had an argument with Richard Petty.
When our own Jay W. Pennell asked race broadcaster Kyle Petty on Twitter why there was no coverage of the incident, Petty responded by asking what had happened.
This brush up is important since Allmendinger – along with his teammates at RPM – are potential free agents for 2011. In his final year with the team, this incident may have long lasting affects if not handled properly.
“We'll be back," Loomis said. "It's unfortunate for AJ. He's such a fierce competitor. I can't describe how bad that guy wants to win and he will win. It's just a matter of when."
Tear It Up
While there were a number of torn up race cars at the end of the day, another thing that will be torn up following this weekend’s race is the track surface at the Daytona International Speedway. Following the February’s incident with the hole in Turns 1 and 2, track officials announced the 2.5-mile speedway would be repaved for the first time since 1979.
Driver opinion varied on the decision, but in the end Saturday’s race marked the end of an era. The first race run on that old surface was the epic 1979 Daytona 500 in which Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough wrecked one another for the lead on the final lap and Donnie’s brother Bobby stopped by the wreck after the race and a fight ensued.
Winning the race, Harvick stated he wanted a piece of the start-finish line more than the trophy.
“I think this racetrack is obviously the most historic racetrack that we race on, and I think if that asphalt could talk, you can go back and look at all the stories,” Harvick said. “But it's just such a neat deal to be able to win the last race on that particular asphalt. It's going to be a lot different race when we come back.
“Any time you can win, though, whether it's new asphalt or old asphalt, it's always going to be the baddest place to win, and that's Daytona,” Harvick added.
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