by Justin Tucker
Coming into the 2013 season the one word that could sum up Kevin Harvick’s season outlook was uncertainty.
Harvick, who made the announcement last season that he would be leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2013 for Stewart-Haas Racing, faced doubt and questions about his decision to leave the only organization he has ever known in his NASCAR career. Many wondered if Harvick and the 29 team would fall victim to the “lame duck” label placed upon him by so many.
On Saturday night, Harvick answered all those questions by winning the Toyota Owners 400 for his third career victory on the .75 mile speedway.
Harvick would rocket through traffic on the final restart driving from seventh to the lead in the final two laps to score his 20th career NSCS win.
“Just shifted gears, hit the pedal and hoped for the best,” Harvick said when he was asked about the final restart. “They all went high and I went low. The seas kind of parted there. They didn’t get a very good restart, and my car launched. I was able to take it three-wide, those guys all drove it in hard, and I was able to get by the next two. I only had one to go by the time I got to the backstretch.”
“That was vintage Kevin Harvick right there,” crew chief Gil Martin said.
Pole sitter Matt Kenseth set the early pace on Saturday night by leading the opening 36 laps of the 400 lap event. Kenseth, whose No. 20 team was crushed by NASCAR with penalties early this week for an engine failing secondary inspection after winning the STP 400 at Kansas last Sunday, would fight handling issues after halfway resulting in a seventh-place finish. Kenseth would lead 140 of the 406 laps run on Saturday night.
Clint Bowyer came into Richmond off the heels of three consecutive top 5 finishes. On Saturday night, he would score his fourth consecutive top 5 finish in as many races by finishing second. Bowyer, who has proven to be one of NASCAR’s best on the short tracks would prove to be strong all night long leading 113 laps and was never outside the top 10 in the running order at any point on Saturday. With his second-place finish, Bowyer would move up to fifth in the NSCS standings.
Unquestionably, Juan Pablo Montoya had the run of the night. To say the last three seasons have been full of frustration for the driver out of Columbia is an understatement. On Saturday night, Montoya almost put three years of frustration to bed. Montoya’s No. 42 Chevrolet was one of the strongest cars in the field all night long, never running outside the top 10 at any point in the race and had the race in his grasp until Brian Vickers pounded the outside wall with four laps to go, bringing out the final caution of the night. Montoya would then pit from the lead and drop back to sixth in the running order. A bad restart ended any chance of victory, leaving him to settle for a fourth-place finish. The fourth-place finish was Montoya’s first top 5 in the last 75 races.
“I was like, ‘Really? Really?,” Montoya said about the caution. He pounded his fist on the steering wheel when the yellow flag waved. “That is what we needed,” he said. “I felt like last week we had a top-five car as well, but not quite a car to win. I think this weekend, we came here and tested, and the guys did an amazing job, and we had a good car all weekend.”
Jeff Burton would score his first top 5 of 2013 on Saturday night by finishing fifth at his home race track. The finish moved Burton up to 19th in the standings, 53 points out of tenth.
Richmond would prove to be unkind to Kyle Busch on Saturday night. After winning the last four Spring races at Richmond International Raceway, many believed it was a near certainty that Busch would make it five in a row. However, with 75 to go, those chances went up in smoke after Tony Stewart got loose entering Turn 1 and hit Jimmie Johnson, spinning both cars out. Busch had nowhere to go and hit Johnson. The resulting severe front end damage made his M&M’s Toyota uncompetitive for the rest of the race. Busch eventually finished 24th.
Brad Keselowski had a rough night at Richmond as well. On lap 157 Keselowski would blow a right front tire, sending him into the outside wall. After fighting back into the top 10, the current series champion’s night would go south after dropping a cylinder with 23 laps to go, leaving him to settle for a 33rd-place finish.
It is not often you can finish 12th and extend your series points lead, but that is exactly what Jimmie Johnson did on Saturday. After being caught up in two separate incidents, Johnson would wheel his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet home to a 12th-place finish and extended his points lead to 43 over Carl Edwards.
It was a typical Richmond style race. Close quarters racing and cautions near the end that would impact the race’s outcome. Plus, there was post-race fireworks between Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart during the cool down laps. Kurt discussed the final restart after the race.
“We were hoping to be on the right sequence at the end,” Kurt said. “Some guys had older tires. Some guys had newer tires. We were in the mix. A green-white-checkered at the end, it is just chaos. Cars are everywhere. People are beating and banging and shoving each other out of the way. It’s pretty wild.”
The top 10 from Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 were Harvick, Bowyer, Logano, Montoya, Burton, Edwards, Kenseth, Almirola, Kurt Busch, and Earnhardt Jr.
Next week the Sprint Cup Series heads to the ultra fast Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron’s 499. Green flag next Sunday is scheduled for 1:19 P.M. EST.
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