Harvick spoils Earnhardt’s party in Martinsville
In a race that saw a race record 31 lead changes, Harvick rallied back after struggling with an ill-handling race car to sneak past Kyle Busch for second place on lap 486, then got under Earnhardt with four laps to go and held on for his second win of the 2011 season.
Busch was third, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon.
It was Harvick’s first career victory at NASCAR’s shortest track and first for Richard Childress Racing since 1995.
After starting ninth, Harvick had dropped as low as 27th and had his car dinged up in a minor incident early in the race as his team worked to tighten up his no. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet. By lap 385 he was back on the lead lap, had run his fastest lap of the race and was moving back into the top ten.
“My team always preach to me don't ever quit,” said Harvick. “I was pissed at the beginning looking for whatever I needed to do to make the car to go. They just kept making it better. I nearly wrecked it and it got a lot better. I don't know what that means but just kept digging until the end
“I got over being mad and then we just started working on the car and everything just started going our way. The car started handling good and we put two tires on it and I got track position and started gaining positions.”
“I'm frustrated that I got close and I was out there leading and I'm thinking I'm going to try to take me home a clock,” said Earnhardt. “I hate it that I didn't win."
“I tried to put together some laps there but the back of car just wasn't into the track enough. Harvick was coming and there just wasn't much I could do. Got a little lose there going down into (turn) one. I wanted to do a little bit of a cross over move and I thought I had that but we got down into turn three, I wanted to keep my nose there but not too much. I don't know what I could have done different.”
Earnhardt, Jr. put himself in a position to win with a solid performance that kept him in the top-10 most of the day before finally pushing his way past Kyle Busch for the lead with 20 laps to go, bringing a rousing reaction from the crowd.
Earnhardt quickly pulled away to a seven car-length lead once Harvick moved past Busch for second, but it wasn’t enough as Harvick closed the distance to make the challenge for the lead.
As he got closer, Earnhardt’s no. 88 Chevy appeared to get loose going through the turns, giving Harvick a chance to get his nose underneath and make the pass.
“I could see the people just going crazy coming off of turn two when (Earnhardt, Jr.) took the lead from Kyle, and I as catching him and I'm like, man, I'm going to be the bad guy here. But I've got to do what I've got to do,” said Harvick.
“I know the fans want to see him win. I want to see him win. I want to see Dale Junior win. It would be great for the sport and I think today went a long ways to showing how competitive that they can be racing for wins, and that's what we need. We all need him to win. But not going to back down.”
For Kyle Busch, it was the second time he two days he’d had the bumper put to him late in the race, after being pushed aside by Johnny Sauter in the late-race pass in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
But looking for his first Martinsville Cup Series victory, Busch led a race-high 151 laps and finish third – for the second week in a row.
“I was holding him up. I sucked. So it was good for him. I mean, he took the lead. No harm, no foul,” said Busch of Earnhardt, Jr.’s pass. “We had one of the best runs here we’ve ever had,” said Busch. “Probably had the best car here today and unfortunately just didn’t win with it.”
Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin rounded out the top ten.
* Denotes Rookie
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