At Richmond International Raceway, there was plenty of side-by-side racing with retribution and ruthless aggression on the track. Oh, and there was also Kevin Harvick leading 202 out of 400 laps (more laps than he had led all year combined) en route to his 18th career victory.
“We had a really good Budweiser Chevrolet on the short runs,” said an overjoyed Harvick post-race. “We had a good car up until about the last quarter of a run. (Jeff) Gordon was able to get by us, [then] we would just get really loose. On the green flag runs, we could take off for the first 40 or 50 laps really good. They got it a little bit too tight there at the end and Carl [Edwards] was actually a little bit better than we were. I finally just started hugging the bottom and parking it and figured he was either going to have to knock me out of the way or go around the outside. It was a good race. A lot of fun.”
David Reutimann started the race on the pole at a speed of 127.383 mph, but gave way to Jamie McMurray at the drop of the green flag. The first caution of the night fell when Mike Bliss made conct with Andy Lally, sending him into the Turn 3 wall. The race went back to green on lap 7, only for a multi-car melee to take place in Turn 3 a couple of laps later. Clint Bowyer spun after rubbing against Reutimann. Behind Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Scott Speed, Denny Hamlin, David Gilliland, Casey Mears, Martin Truex, Jr., Matt Kenseth, Marcos Ambrose, Travis Kvapil, J.J. Yeley, and Robby Gordon all piled in. Speed and Robby Gordon’s cars were done for the evening following the big wreck.
The race went back to green on lap 20 with Jimmie Johnson taking the race lead. Eight laps later, the third caution of the evening. came out when Kasey Kahne spun in turn 2. The race would briefly go back to green flag racing until Lap 38 when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made contact with Marcos Ambrose, sending him for a spin. Fifteen laps later, Ambrose again found himself in the middle of a skirmish that managed to take out both Red Bull drivers in Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers. An angry Vickers turned in front of Ambrose under caution to block his progress. Then, imitating Sean Avery’s one-time tactics that resulted in a new rule being created in the NHL, he blocked Ambrose so that he could not restart. As a result, NASCAR held Vickers for several laps behind the wall after his repairs were completed.
Following the collection of wrecks, emotions calmed down for a little while. Things would stay green until lap 117 when Mike Bliss cut a tire and slapped the wall, coming out of turn 1 for caution number six. After another decent-sized run, the seventh caution of the day came out when, following on-track contact by Travis Kvapil, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. dumped Kvapil into the turn 1 wall. Earnhardt, Jr. lost his chance at picking up the Lucky Dog due to his move. The leaders all pitted here, allowing Greg Biffle to briefly take the lead. However, Harvick regained the advantage right after the restart. A couple of laps later, caution number eight came out when Landon Cassill spun in turn 4.
The incidents kept coming. Right after the restart, caution number nine came out for Paul Menard hitting the turn 1 wall. Then, the tenth caution came out for a controversial incident when Kurt Busch locked his wheels trying to avoid Johnson and unintentionally sent Johnson into the Turn 1 wall. Juan Pablo Montoya also spun to avoid Johnson. Shortly after the restart, Carl Edwards took the lead away from Harvick and exerted substantial control over the race.
Fans wondered if there would be retaliation and sixty laps later, there was as Johnson made a kamikaze dive full-throttle into turn one to dump Kurt, but Johnson would again back into the wall with Busch just spinning and not losing a great deal of track position for the 11th caution of the race.
Johnson was very irritated with Kurt Busch following the incidents and spoke out after the race.
“I got run over going into one so you’re spinning out you’re spinning out, that’s part of it.” said Johnson. “I’m sure I’ll go find him, talk to him and he’ll run his mouth and we’ll go from there. So we’ll see what happens. I’ve worked very hard to not have any contact with him and even the Pocono thing I made a move to break the draft and I didn’t touch his car and he ran into the side of me. If he can stop running into my Lowe’s Chevrolet everything would be just fine.”
“We raced down into Turn 1 and I locked up the left front trying to avoid him.” Kurt Busch stated about his part of the accident. “When he came back to us, you know, you could see it coming. That’s not something you see from Jimmie Johnson every day, so I know we’re in his head. If we’re going to race this way, he’s got to worry that there’s ten other guys in this Chase, not just the 22.”
Caution number twelve came out for Jeff Burton backing into the wall after a flat tire. Just after the green flag came back out, the 13th caution proved to be unlucky for Marcos Ambrose, who spun like his cartoon “Tasmanian Devil” counter part for the second time in the race and was involved in his fourth caution of the race. The 14th caution came out on lap 309 when David Reutimann hit the wall after contact with Clint Bowyer in Turn 1.
Under the 14th caution, all of the frontrunners chose to pit, except for Carl Edwards. That gamble did not work out well. Harvick retook the lead on the restart and pulled away while Edwards dropped back on his older tires. Harvick held onto the top spot until Jeff Gordon took the lead with 23 laps to go. From there, Gordon checked out on the field and appeared to be in line for his fourth win of 2011 and potential 86th career win.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to the Victory Lane celebration. With 16 laps to go, the final yellow flew when Paul Menard spun exiting Turn 4 laps. This brought the leaders in for their final pit stops of the night. Coming out of the pits, it was “The Closer” Kevin Harvick getting out of the pits first with Gordon second followed by Edwards, Kyle Busch, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, and Greg Biffle.
When the green flag came out with 12 laps to go, the race for the win came down to Harvick and Carl Edwards. Despite Edwards’ valiant effort, getting up to the bumper of Harvick, he had to settle for second as Harvick won his 18th career Cup race, and fourth win of the 2011 season.
Behind Harvick and Edwards was a disappointed Jeff Gordon in third with David Ragan and Kurt Busch, recovering from both tangles with Johnson, to round out the top-5. Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Mark Martin rounded out the top-10.
The average speed of the race was 89.910 mph, slowed by 15 cautions for 85 laps with Harvick’s margain of victory at 0.139 seconds. The race took 3 hours, 20 minutes, and 12 seconds in front of a crowd of 88,000 and there were 11 lead changes among 7 drivers.
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