Kevin Harvick claimed victory in the "Wonderful Pistachios 400" Saturday night race at Richmond International Raceway - with perhaps just a little conveniently timed help from his Richard Childress Racing team mate Paul Menard.
David Reutimann had qualified in pole but when it came to the green flag at just before 8pm, it was Jamie McMurray who got the better start off the front row to take the lead. It was a short-lived run before Andy Lally hit the wall on turn 4 on the second three-quarter mile lap. Fortunately it didn't collect anyone else: the last thing any of the tense contenders for undecided Chase positions needed at this point was to get involved in a huge multi-car wreck that could see them written out of the battle.
But a huge multi-car wreck involving Chase contenders was exactly what happened at the next restart on lap 8: and it was Clint Bowyer, the driver who desperately needed a win to have a chance of a wildcard spot, who sparked it when he spun while running side-by-side with Reutimann. Another Chase contender on the knife-edge, Dale Earnhardt Jr., then ploughed into Bowyer; and another driver in an even more precarious Chase position, Denny Hamlin, then slammed into the wall trying to avoid the situation. In total, 13 cars got caught up in the wreck.
Somewhat miraculously, none of the Chase hopefuls were actually written off by the crash - not even Hamlin, who had sustained the most damage. "This car is absolutely destroyed," said Hamlin. "Any other race track, we would be down 20 laps, but they just worked on it. It's amazing how fast they got this car, considering the circumstances." Hamlin was helped by the extended yellow for the clean-up, and then three rapid cautions coming between lap 27 and 51.
The first of these was for Kasey Kahne hitting the wall; the second involved Dale Earnhardt Jr. again, this time with the #88 getting into the rear of Marcos Ambrose; and then on lap 51 it was back to Kahne as he had an even more emphatic encounter first with the outside and then with the inside wall, after running three-wide with Ambrose and Kahne's Red Bull team mate Brian Vickers. Vickers made the team sentiment about where the blame lay clear when he then proceeded to exact retribution on the #9 under the ensuing caution by wrecking him and then blocking his entrance onto pit road.
"What can I say? The #9 wrecked us. Both of us," said Vickers.
Kahne didn't even see what had happened to end his day. "I just know that I was on the outside going into the straightaway and then I just started to turn in and then the #83 hit me pretty hard,” he said. "He got hit by someone else, but I haven't seen it so I don't know what exactly happened. It was kind of a weird deal."
"Not a good day for the Red Bull cars," added Vickers.
All of which had been music to Hamlin's ears, as it gave him enough caution laps to get the car duct-taped back together again, and he also benefited from a free pass to get back onto the lead lap. Meanwhile, McMurray had lost the lead to Jimmie Johnson on lap 20, who kept it through to the pit stops under the latest caution which allowed Matt Kenseth to take to the front. He kept the lead at the restart after a battle with Kurt Busch, while behind them the fight for third was between Brad Keselowski, David Ragan and Kevin Harvick. Harvick won that battle and then made his way to the front on lap 74, and he kept the lead for the next 82 laps.
That period included two more cautions - one on lap 116 for Mike Bliss hitting the wall after a tyre went down, and another on lap 152 when Earnhardt delivered some street justice on Travis Kvapil for some earlier contact, sending the #38 into the wall at turn 2. Saved from being lapped again, Earnhardt was nonetheless still a lap down and should have received the free pass at this point, but having triggered the caution he was not allowed to benefit from it.
"I think we were racing for the Lucky Dog, and two or three times I got a run on him on the outside - obviously the hard way to pass- and he chopped me a couple times," said Kvapil, explaining the events that led up to the wreck. "So I gave him a tap at the start-finish line, and next time by he let me go and then he just wrecked me. It's just frustrating. Obviously neither one of us was having a very good night, so it just made both of our night's worse."
"The [expletive] deserved it, and he knows it," was Dale's succinct summary of the situation.