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Last-lap move powers Harvick to Talladega win

26 April 2010

TALLADEGA, Ala.—In a race that set NASCAR Sprint Cup Series records for the number of leaders (29) and lead changes (88)—and fanned the flames of the increasingly combustible rivalry between teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon—Kevin Harvick broke a 115-race winless streak in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Less than a week after sponsor Shell/Pennzoil announced its departure from Harvick's No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet at the end of the season, Harvick won his first points race in the series since his first event in Shell colors—the 2007 Daytona 500.

In the third and final attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Harvick pushed 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray for all but the final quarter-mile of the final lap before surging past McMurray to the inside and beating the No. 1 Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevy to the line by .011 seconds.

“It really played out perfect for us today,” said Harvick, who won for the 12th time in the Cup series and for the first time at Talladega. “We had a plan to ride around in the back, wait 'til 50 laps to go and really push forward after that.

“Our sponsor's leaving us, and the best part about it is that they can leave while we're winning. That's the best part of the whole thing.”

The victory, in a race extended 12 laps beyond its scheduled distance of 188 laps, was the first for RCR since Jeff Burton won Oct. 11, 2008 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Juan Pablo Montoya, who like McMurray was short on fuel at the end of the race, finished third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Mark Martin.

The first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish ended early when Joey Logano turned Ryan Newman while bump-drafting in Turn 3 and ignited a nine-car accident. The second attempt eliminated Johnson and took a major bite out of his lead in the series standings after he turned across the nose of Greg Biffle's Ford and careened into the inside wall.

The real buzz, however, centered on a Lap 182 incident that, for the second straight week, saw Johnson and Gordon bang fenders and enflame emotions.

The accident started when Johnson blocked Gordon in Turn 3, and contact between the cars forced Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet onto the apron below the yellow line that delineates the no-passing zone at restrictor-plate superspeedways.

Gordon slowed and returned to the track just as Burton's Chevrolet turned across the nose of Mike Bliss' Chevy, severely damaging one of the fastest cars in the race (Burton's No. 31). Kasey Kahne and Scott Speed also sustained damage in the accident.

“The 48 (Johnson) is testing my patience, I can tell you that,” said Gordon, who finished 22nd. “It takes a lot to make me mad, and I am pissed right now. When a car's going that much faster (Gordon closed rapidly on Johnson), I don't know what it is with me and him right now—but whatever.”

After a complete cycle of green-flag pit stops, the complexion of the race changed on Lap 83, when contact from Kyle Busch's No. 18 Toyota sent Johnny Sauter's No. 36 Chevrolet spinning in the tri-oval. Sauter nosed into the right side of Kurt Busch's No. 2 Dodge, denting the body behind the front wheel well.

All told, 10 cars were involved, including the No. 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth, who entered the race second in the Cup standings, 108 points behind Johnson. Kenseth was a lap down at the time, after losing the draft early in the race and falling behind the lead pack.

The wreck also ruined promising runs by Paul Menard and Michael Waltrip.

“Honestly, at one point I looked up and it was me and Dale Jr. leading the race, and I thought, 'This feels great!' I hope the fans are enjoying it,” Waltrip said. “The car was fast. Kyle just messed up and ran into a guy and crashed him.

“When you set yourself to the standards that he does—he's really good and he'll tell you about it—but whether it's a tear-off or a caution flag, when you set yourself to those standards and then you make a mistake like that in front of the field, it's kind of disappointing.”

Johnson now leads second-place Harvick by 26 points in the Cup standings. Biffle is third, 86 points back.


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