No crew chief, starting dead last, and 14 cautions on the high banks of Bristol. Apparently, that’s the perfect mix to bring Kevin Harvick charging to the front.
Harvick outlasted Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle, and a handful of others Sunday to win a wreck-filled Food City 500 at Bristol and collect his first win since the Brickyard 400 in August of 2003. The 29 team completed a miraculous comeback after having to start dead last on the field when a power steering leak was found Sunday morning before the race. The Goodwrench Chevrolet still wasted no time charging from the back to the front despite the absence of crew chief Todd Berrier, serving the second week of his four-week suspension for rigging the fuel tank before Las Vegas qualifying in March.
“We had a great car all day,” said Harvick. “We didn’t make any huge adjustments. With everything that’s gone on and Todd being at home…you don’t have to say a whole lot because the performance we had today speaks for itself.”
Team owner Richard Childress, upset after the National Stock Car Racing Commission denied the team’s appeal of the penalty this week, had calmed down by Sunday, re-energizing the team by standing on top of the pit box for the first time since 2001.That attitude translated onto the race track, as Harvick passed Greg Biffle for the lead on lap 434 and never looked back, cruising to the win by a straightaway over second-place Elliott Sadler.
Biffle, who led 91 laps on the day, seemed to be in control of the race and on pace for his second win of the season. But the team made a fatal error on a caution with 89 laps remaining; all the lead lap cars came in to make their final pit stop under yellow, while Biffle stayed out with old tires. It was a move that cost Biffle the win, and ultimately, a top five finish; his right front went flat with just two laps to go and he faded to 9th.
“It was a terrible finish, but we had a dominant car,” said Biffle. “We just made the wrong call and that’s all there is to it.”
Behind Sadler, Tony Stewart recovered from a spin on the track to finish 3rd, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., collecting his first Top 5 finish since Daytona. Dale Jarrett rounded out the Top 5 to pick up his best finish of the season.
Other notables included Travis Kvapil, who had the best finish of his young Nextel Cup career by coming home in 7th, and Kyle Petty, who finished 8th for his first Top 10 since Talladega in April of 2002. Scott Riggs and Sterling Marlin also had decent days, finishing 10th and 11th.
Any race at Bristol wouldn’t be complete without its usual share of wrecks, and today was no exception as 14 cautions paced the field through 500 laps. The biggest wreck occurred on lap 332 when Bobby Hamilton Jr. tapped the 49 car of Ken Schrader on the back straightaway, triggering a 14-car melee. The wreck took out top contenders Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Dave Blaney, and Michael Waltrip, as well as damaging the lead lap cars of Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.
“I’m sure I’m a pretty good S.O.B right now with everybody,” Hamilton said after the wreck. “I just screwed up, and I’m going to tuck my tail between my legs and head back to Nashville.”
Rusty Wallace, looking for his 10th win at Bristol in his penultimate race at the track, was also involved in the wreck, but he was already out of contention after an unscheduled pit stop under green for a flat tire. He led the most laps on the day with 157, but finished 13th, two laps down. Tire problems also claimed contenders Matt Kenseth, Terry Labonte, and Jeff Green, among several others.
Roush Racing also suffered through a tough Bristol. Last week’s hero Carl Edwards capped a miserable week by damaging his radiator in a lap 2 crash at the back of the field; he finished 26th. Kurt Busch, winner of four of the last six races at the track, was involved a savage wreck late in the race where he T-boned the spinning car of Jeff Burton entering Turn 3. Both Busch’s and Burton’s cars were destroyed, and they finished 35th and 36th. All in all, three of the five Roush cars were involved in wrecks, and no Roush car finished in the Top 5 for the first time since Phoenix last November.
Jimmie Johnson survived the wreck-fest and hitting the wall himself under green-flag conditions to finish 6th, and expanded his point lead to 94 over Greg Biffle heading into Martinsville next weekend. Tony Stewart jumped to 3rd in the point standings, with Carl Edwards and Elliott Sadler rounding out the Top 5.
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