Harvick makes late charge to win at Martinsville

Posted: 04/04/2011 in NASCAR

Harvick denies Earnhardt Jr. at Martinsville


Kevin Harvick won his second straight Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, but it wasn’t to the delight of the estimated crowd of 60,000 on hand for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Harvick, who won last weekend at his home track in California, prevented Dale Earnhardt Jr. — NASCAR’s most popular driver — an opportunity to end his winless streak that dates back to June 2008 at Michigan.

Earnhardt Jr. passed Kyle Busch for the lead with 21 laps remaining in the 500-lap affair at the flat, half-mile Virginia track. But Harvick took over the top position with four laps to go when Earnhardt Jr. got loose, allowing Harvick to squeak by him.

Harvick dealt with a loose car and fell back in the field in the early going, but he patiently made his way to the front in the late stages. He crossed the finish line 0.7 seconds ahead of Earnhardt Jr. to become the first repeat winner in the series this season.

“I didn’t think we had the car to do that,” said Harvick, who led just six laps. “I had a lot of fun racing with Dale Jr. I hate to be the bad guy here, but we’re in it to win it.”

Last Sunday at California, Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson and led only the final lap for the victory.

It was Harvick’s 16th career Cup win, but his first at Martinsville. He also gave team owner Richard Childress his first victory here since Dale Earnhardt’s win in the fall 1995 race.

Earnhardt Jr.’s winless drought now stretches to 99 races.

“[Harvick] was coming, and there wasn’t much I could do,” a disappointed Earnhardt Jr. said. “I got a little loose coming into [turn] one, and I wanted to do a cross-over move. I thought I had that.”

Busch dominated during a series of long green-flag stretches in the second half, but the final caution for an incident involving Regan Smith occurred 34 laps away from the finish. That allowed Earnhardt Jr. to chase down Busch for the lead just after the last restart.

“We just didn’t have a short-run car today,” Busch said. “We were really good on the long runs, but it just wasn’t a long-run race there at the end.”

Busch led the most laps with 151, but ended up in third.

Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth, while Jeff Gordon, a seven-time Martinsville race winner, took the fifth spot.

Matt Kenseth, pole sitter Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin, who made his 800th career Cup start, completed the top-10.

Five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson was in contention to win until he was slapped with a pit-road speeding penalty during the final round of stops. Johnson, who has won at Martinsville six times, settled for an 11th- place finish.

Denny Hamlin, who had won the last three races at Martinsville, led a total of 89 laps, but faded in the second half en route to a 12th-place run.

The race featured a track-record 31 lead changes, as well as 11 cautions — including one for a vicious accident involving Martin Truex Jr. and Kasey Kahne on lap 221.

The throttle in Truex’s car became stuck, causing him to hit Kahne, therefore sending both drivers straight into the wall.

“When you usually get hit here, you spin out because somebody is mad,” Kahne said. “I knew that the throttle had stuck on Martin’s car, because he drove me through the wall.”

Truex’s battered car briefly erupted into flames. Both drivers were not injured in what is being considered one of the hardest crashes to occur at NASCAR’s oldest and shortest track on the schedule.

NASCAR halted the race for 25 minutes to allow track personnel to repair the SAFER (Steel And Foam Energy Reduction) barrier on the outside wall.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh man, this is going to hurt,’ but it didn’t hurt at all,” Truex said. “I want to thank NASCAR and everybody who built the SAFER barrier and these cars; they’re unbelievable. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been standing here.”

After the sixth race of the season, Kyle Busch took over the points lead. His advantage is five markers over Carl Edwards, who finished one lap behind in 18th.

– Steve


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