"That last run there, we were actually too tight," said Harvick. "Carl was actually a little bit better. And then, with about three or four laps to go, I just locked it on the bottom and hoped for the best there, so it all worked out."
It was a long-overdue return to form for Harvick's team, which had looked to have taken a steep dip in form since winning three races earlier in the year.
"During the middle of the summer, to be quite frank, we've run like crap," admitted Harvick's crew chief Gil Martin. "We got off our game trying to do some things to just win races because I think after we won the three races and kind of thought we were locked into the Chase, we kind of got off our game some trying some things that probably we shouldn't have. I think that taught us a valuable lesson through the summer and going into Atlanta."
The dip in form may also have one of the factors that persuaded Harvick that he could no longer afford to split his attention between Cup racing and running his own Nationwide/Truck Series manufacturing company, Kevin Harvick Inc., which he announced this week he would be closing down. (See separate stories about KHI merging its Nationwide
operations into Richard Childress Racing, and also closing down or selling off
its factory and remaining Truck Series teams.)
Gordon finished in third place ahead of David Ragan, one of the outside contenders for the remaining Chase positions who had needed a win to be in with a chance and so for whom fourth place was little consolation. "We needed to win this thing ... We had a race winner here if things would have fell our way," said Ragan after the race.
Ragan also talked about why tempers had been on such a short fuse up and down the field during the night, with so many acts of retaliation and retribution in evidence. "Everyone was racing hard and I think the Chase atmosphere and the Saturday night racing here at Richmond I think there are some guys that had some payback before the Chase started," he suggested. "It was fun to watch that. If one of them had gotten in our way we would have been mad but we were able to drive around them. I am glad we had a fast enough car that we could be the aggressor and not the one being pushed around."
Ragan finished ahead of Kurt Busch (who survived that midrace spat with Jimmie Johnson) and his brother Kyle, who finished in sixth despite going a lap down early in the race after having to make an unscheduled extra pit stop on lap 69 in green for a suspected loose wheel.
Tony Stewart had a perfectly solid, unspectacular but most of all safe run to seventh place to clinch his Chase position, while Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought their battle-scarred cars home in ninth and 16th positions respectively to secure their own Chase spots as well. (See separate story on the Race for the Chase
In all, it had been a long night, with drivers not getting to head off to the press conferences until after midnight and a strange mix of relief, euphoria and exhaustion lending a very surreal and often fractious air to proceedings. But finally the first major milestone of the 2011 season has been reached: the Chase contenders are locked in, and Harvick's win among the high drama, nerves and acts of retribution makes him the joint leader with Kyle Busch going into the title-deciding last ten races of the year.
Full race results and positions