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Harvick dominates The Sprint Unlimited

by Pete McCole
Saturday, February 16, 2013

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Kevin Harvick
Getty Images for NASCAR
Call Kevin Harvick what you want, just don’t call him a lame-duck driver.

Driving in his final season for Richard Childress Racing, Harvick delivered RCR their eighth win in the season-opening non-points race reserved for the previous-year pole winners, holding off final-lap pass attempts by Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, going high and low across the track score his third victory in the season-opening non-points event.

Biffle held on for second, followed by Joey Logano, Stewart, and Matt Kenseth.

Harvick has now won three of the last five Sprint Unlimited events, and ties Stewart and Dale Jarrett for the most wins in the event.

It was a fitting way for Harvick to start the 2013 season, which will be his last for the team he started his career with.  Word leaked out last November that he will be leaving RCR at the end of the season to join Stewart’s team.

“This is one for the lame ducks,” Harvick told his crew after the race. “Let’s see how many we can get.”

Harvick certainly made the final lap interesting after the race had settled into a ho-hum single-file parade for the last half of the event.

After a five-lap side-by-side duel with Kenseth at the start of the final 20-lap segment, Harvick looked to have the race in the bag until the final last half-lap, when Stewart made his move on the inside on the backstretch, but Harvick came down to block. Biffle tried his luck on the outside in turns three and four, only to have Harvick move up to take the line away and solidify the lead, holding on to beat Biffle by .149 seconds at the line.

“I was really kind of nervous about the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) and the No. 14 (Tony Stewart). I thought their cars were a little bit better than what we had,” said Harvick. “This one was for everybody sitting in the stands and at home. “It’s a good way to start off Speedweeks.”

The boost fan involvement in the Sprint Unlimited, fans were encouraged to vote on-line to determine the race format, starting lineup, type of pit stop following the first segment, and whether or not to eliminate any cars for the third and final segment.

Fan ultimately chose segments of 30, 25 and 20 laps, and to lineup the 19-car field by the order in which they won their pole awards to earn a spot in the Sprint Unlimited.

The fan vote gave 2012 Daytona 500 pole-winner Carl Edwards and Phoenix pole winner Mark Martin the front row, but following a crash in an earlier practice session that forced them both back-up cars, they dropped to the rear of the field for the start putting  Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle at the head of the field.

Greg Biffle and Martin Truex, Jr. traded the lead for the first four laps before Matt Kenseth took over the top spot, followed by Marcos Ambrose and Tony Stewart.

Nine-Car accident wipes out most of the big names
Getty Images for NASCAR
On lap 15, Stewart tried to thread the needle around Ambrose to take over the second position, but ended up getting clipped by Ambrose’s Ford. Stewart got sideways but recovered and continued on, but behind him a chain-reaction crash collected nine cars, including Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and defending race winner Kyle Busch.

Racing resumed with Kenseth still out in front and Stewart still holding second with 11 laps to go, but on the white flag lap Stewart got a run on the outside with help from Harvick to take the lead and win the opening segment, followed by Kenseth, Harvick, Carl Edwards and Kahne.

Following the first segment, fan-voting called for a four-tire pit stop, and Stewart led the field to pit road. Harvick’s crew got him out first ahead of Stewart, followed by Kahne, putting them up front for the start of the second segment.

Under green, Harvick pulled out in front and led all but one laps of the 25-lap segment, followed by Biffle, Joey Logano, Stewart and Truex, Jr.

Fans voted for no eliminations for the final segment, and Harvick once again led the field to the green flag, immediately facing a challenge from Kenseth who came up alongside. After five laps, Kenseth couldn’t get any help passing Harvick and dropped back in line as Harvick began to pull away.

The field stayed single file coming to the white flag, where Harvick had to make himself three-wide to fend off Stewart and Biffle to grab the victory.

“I thought about sticking it in there and it just didn’t look like it was going to work to me,” said Biffle. “It looked like it would be sparks and parts flying. He shut the door on the top. That is what Kevin needed to do to win the race. I looked in the mirror and didn’t have anyone pushing me. I figured someone might give me a shove and I could try something else. ”

Harvick delivered RCR their eighth victory in the Sprint Unlimited – five with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and three with the driver who replaced him – and reassured his team that he’s not planning on lying down in the last ride with them.

“I think it’s just one of those deals where for us, it’s really not winning races; the politics and everything are one thing, but when we get to the race track it’s about sitting in this race car and making it as fast as it’ll go,” said Harvick. “Those guys, they don’t care about anything but winning and wanting to do good. So, we owe it to them and everybody at Budweiser and I guess we just had to take their name off the race to win it. So, it was an awesome day for us.”

Saturday night’s race marked the first competitive, on-track action for the new Generation 6, or Gen6, stock cars, but most drivers agreed that a 75-lap, 19-car race wasn’t enough to get a feel for what these new cars would do in a multi-pack, 200-lap race like the Daytona 500

“Handling was a lot less of an issue for us than we had anticipated, so that kind of caught us a little off-guard with the practices,” said Harvick. “But we’ve just got to wait a week and see what the weather is like as the handling may, or may not, be more of an issue as we get into the (Daytona) 500.

“So, there is still a lot to be learned with a full pack of cars and we’ll kind of ease into that with the Duels and then onto the big race on Sunday.”

Results

Pos Driver Car # Make Start Laps Laps Led Status
1 Kevin Harvick 29 Chevrolet 17 75 40 Running
2 Greg Biffle 16 Ford 4 75 2 Running
3 Joey Logano 22 Ford 9 75 0 Running
4 Tony Stewart 14 Chevrolet 15 75 5 Running
5 Matt Kenseth 20 Toyota 12 75 26 Running
6 Aric Almirola 43 Ford 8 75 0 Running
7 Kasey Kahne 5 Chevrolet 3 75 0 Running
8 Dale Earnhardt Jr 88 Chevrolet 16 75 0 Running
9 Martin Truex Jr 56 Toyota 6 75 2 Running
10 Juan Pablo Montoya 42 Chevrolet 14 75 0 Running
11 Marcos Ambrose 9 Ford 10 75 0 Running
12 Carl Edwards 99 Ford 1 75 0 Running
13 Kurt Busch 78 Chevrolet 18 15 0 Accident
14 Jimmie Johnson 48 Chevrolet 11 14 0 Accident
15 Denny Hamlin 11 Toyota 5 14 0 Accident
16 Kyle Busch 18 Toyota 13 14 0 Accident
17 Jeff Gordon 24 Chevrolet 7 14 0 Accident
18 Mark Martin 55 Toyota 2 14 0 Accident
19 Ken Schrader 32 Ford 19 2 0 Vibration

Q and A with Kevin Harvick

THIS IS YOUR THIRD WIN IN YOUR LAST FIVE RACES HERE AT THE SPRINT UNLIMITED. YOU KNEW THE MOVE WAS GOING TO COME. YOU JUST DIDN’T KNOW WHEN AND WHERE. TELL US ABOUT THE LAST LAP COMING OFF TURN 2

“I could see those guys, the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) in the middle-half there, and then the No. 14 (Tony Stewart), they were kind of timing it as to how far they needed to get back to get that dive to the bottom, but with the top there, you could guard the bottom if they didn’t get all the way by you with the side draft and that’s really what you were looking for. So I just chose to stay on the top and I knew that the No. 14 was going to try to time it for getting down into (Turn) 1 and then the outside got a huge run and then we were able to block that run on the outside there. It was a great day for our Budweiser Chevy and I’m glad we got Speedweeks started off the right way.”

SO MANY UNKNOWNS; WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THIS RACE CAR?

“I think you just have to be patient with it. Handling was a lot less of an issue for us than we had anticipated. So that kind of caught us a little off-guard with the practices. But we’ve just got to wait a week and see what the weather is like as the handling may, or may not, be more of an issue as we get into the (Daytona) 500. So, there is still a lot to be learned with a full pack of cars and we’ll kind of ease into that with the Duels and then onto the big race on Sunday.”

YOU ALSO SAID YOU WERE KIND OF GLAD THAT MATT KENSETH GOT SHUFFLED BACK. WAS HE THE OTHER STRONG CAR OUT THERE?

“Yeah, I felt like he had the strongest car and he could make a lot happen on the bottom by himself. So, I was glad to see him get shuffled back there.”

THERE WAS SO MUCH UNKNOWN GOING INTO THE RACE TONIGHT. YOU KNEW TONY STEWART WAS GOING TO MAKE A MOVE. WAS THE MOVE THAT YOU EXPECTED HIM TO TRY? WHAT WAS IT LIKE JUST SITTING THERE WAITING?

“I was really kind of nervous about the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) and the No. 14 (Tony Stewart). I thought their cars were a little bit better than what we had. But I want to thank Sprint and the race fans. This one was for everybody sitting in the stands and at home, Budweiser, Rheem, Jimmy John’s, Chevrolet and Bad Boy Buggies and Realtree, everybody that puts this team on the race track. It’s a good way to start off Speedweeks.”

WHAT KIND OF STATEMENT DOES THIS SEND TO PEOPLE UTTERING THE ‘LAME DUCK’ PHRASE FOR THIS YEAR?

“I think it’s just one of those deals where for us, it’s really not winning races; the politics and everything are one thing, but when we get to the race track it’s about sitting in this race car and making it as fast as it’ll go. Those guys, they don’t care about anything but winning and wanting to do good. So, we owe it to them and everybody at Budweiser and I guess we just had to take their name off the race to win it. So, it was an awesome say for us.”

TONY STEWART, NO. 14 MOBIL 1/BASS PRO SHOPS CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED FOURTH. TELL US ABOUT THE LAST LAP HOW IT PLAYED OUT IN YOUR MIND AND WHAT MOVES YOU COULD HAVE MADE/SHOULD HAVE MADE?
“That is why I haven’t won a Daytona 500 yet.  I’m not quite sure exactly which move to make.  I saw the No. 22 coming on the bottom. I thought they were going fast enough that I needed to move down, but I should have stayed where I was at.  We’ve got a good car anybody that questions whether Mobil 1 is the best lubricant brand in the world all they had to do was watch the first 20 laps of that race.  We proved it by going to the back, going to the front, going to the back, going to the front.  We’ve got really good race cars.  I’m really proud of the Hendrick engine department and everybody at Stewart-Haas.  To go through the winter these guys have gone through and trying to build cars at the last minute because of the shortage of parts and to bring two cars down here that are this fast.  I’m really proud of our organization right now.”

WHAT HAPPENED EARLY IN THE RACE WHEN THE BIG WRECK BROKE LOOSE?
“I got a big run on the No. 20 and I went to the bottom.  I thought I was clear.  The spotter did not clear me so I went on my own.  I thought I had enough of a run to be clear of the third-place guy.  I’m pretty sure I clipped whoever was in third.  I made a move for the lead and probably was a little anxious too early.  I was kind of stagnant where I was at and I was having fun moving forward and felt racy.”

WHAT DID YOU LEARN TONIGHT ABOUT THIS NEW GEN-6 RACE CAR?
“We learned a lot.  The good thing is we’ve got 500 miles to get it done this weekend.  We learned a lot that will help us going into Sunday.  Really proud of our team and organization that we were able to bring two really good cars like this down here.  This thing was fast today.”

LAP 15 YOU GOT TO USE SOME DIRT TRACK EXPERIENCE WHAT HAPPENED?
“I self-cleared myself I guess, I went down before the spotter cleared me.  I thought I had a big enough run that I cleared second, but I obviously hadn’t and I just barely nicked him. I just need about two more inches.”

WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST THOUGHTS ON THE WAY THE NEW CAR RACED TONIGHT?
“It is like nobody has missed a beat.  It’s almost like it’s not even a new car as far as how comfortable everybody got.  I think everybody was pretty solid right off the bat.  I think if it gets warm it could make this interesting and put it back in our hands again.  It’s still a chess match.  You’ve still got to play chess.”

YOU HAD A PRETTY EVENTFUL EVENING IF YOU COULD JUST TALK ABOUT THAT: 
“Self-cleared myself in (turn) one and wasn’t.  I don’t think I was clear obviously.  I clipped whoever was in third.  When Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. came down to the middle where he was at made me really tight.  I got up into him and then I got into him and couldn’t get off of him, bounced off of him about three times.  I made sure our spotter told him what happened, but I definitely was in enough interesting spots tonight for sure and most of them I put myself in.”

YET STILL ABLE TO RALLY FOR A GOOD FINISH SO THAT HAS GOT TO BE ENCOURAGING: 
“Tonight is the reason why I haven’t won the Daytona 500 yet.  I’m not sure where I’ve got to be on the last lap there and what to do.  We heard the Fords were ganging up and trying something.  Then saw the No. 22 car on the bottom all of a sudden, so I went where I thought was the right place to be and we lost two spots with it.  I would rather try something and it not work than stay and lose a bunch of spots and I would probably be more frustrated because I didn’t try something.”

WITH THE SIGNIFICANT CONTACT THAT YOU DID HAVE TONIGHT WERE YOU HAPPY WITH HOW THE CAR HANDLED AFTER THE FACT?
“Yeah, it really didn’t change it.  I honestly don’t know I haven’t even been to that side of the car to see what it did.  It really didn’t change my balance, so I don’t think it really changed anybody’s balance that made contact.  They are pretty solid race cars I’m pretty impressed.”

PRETTY GOOD DAY FOR YOUR TEAM YOU HAVE TO BE REALLY HAPPY: 
“I’m really proud of our organization to come in a clutch like this and have to build race cars at the last minute.  Because everybody was waiting on parts and to be able to bring three cars that today in practice were in the top eight and to have a car that we had tonight.  I couldn’t be more proud of the effort and the results that showed tonight because of it.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 88 NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET SS, FINISHED 9TH:  HOW DID THE CARS HANDLE OUT THERE TONIGHT? "It was pretty good when we had more cars. I thought the racing was real good even with 12 cars in the second segment. At the end of the race, it was just few enough cars that when about eight or 10 of them started controlling the top line, the basically controlled the fate of everybody else.  You really had to get more cars moving around, and going for the lead to get a little more racing, and a little more action. But, I thought what I saw the first segment and the second segment with just a few cars out there, it was pretty dicey."

DID YOUR HANDLING GO AWAY QUICKLY? OTHER DRIVERS SAID THEIR'S DID: "Really?  My car drove real good. I never had any problems with the handling. I never had any problems with the handling."

DID THE ADJUSTMENTS, OR WHATEVER THEY DID TO FIX THE CAR AFTER THE SECOND SEGMENT MAKE IT FINE? "I didn't really have any problems with my car. I don't think we changed anything. This is the car we tested and it didn't really run that great when we tested it. I could get run and charge up into the top-five, but it didn't like the clean air up there. It got real draggy, just real slow up front. The No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) had a great car, and the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) was real fast, but he's real sharp at plate racing too. The No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) had a good car. I just didn't make enough of the right moves or  have enough car to get it going there."

YOU SAID IT SOUNDED SICK: "Well, I thought I had an issue with the engine, but it was just the draft was easy to lose. With this little spoiler on the back, it's really easy  to lose the draft because the air gets to your nose pretty quick, and the distance of the draft isn't as far back as it used to be off the car in front of you. So, you can lose it pretty easily. You have to be real careful.  Me and the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) both lost it right there at the end of the second segment."

SO DRAFTING IS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT WITH THIS CAR? "It's different than it was last year for sure from what I saw in that race. You could still push guys, which we always...we pushed guys for years and years and years and years. Even before the COT, we were pushing each other down the straightaways and stuff. I think you can still do that. Everybody's just got to kind of learn how we have to do it differently now. Everybody's just got to go through trial and error on how to it. What works and what doesn't."

THERE WAS A WRECK EARLY IN TESTING. THERE WAS A WRECK EARLY IN PRACTICE YESTERDAY. THERE WAS A WRECK EARLY IN THIS RACE. HAVE YOU GUYS HAD ENOUGH CHANCE TO LEARN WITH A LOT OF CARS OUT THERE? "No, not really. A lot of the guys that weren't in this race haven't been in real race conditions with this car yet. So, half the field still has a lot to learn; a crash course you know. I think. So I think you are going to see a little bit of the same in the (Daytona) 500. Maybe even in one or two of the qualifiers. The qualifiers have always kind of been that way anyway. You always had one that had a big crash in it, and then one that was caution free. The bumpers aren't perfect. They are imperfect when they line up, and that is going to cause some action and some drama out there. That is the way it used to be, and I think everybody is okay with that. The drafting and the way you work the draft, I think everybody is still kind of learning that. I learned a lot tonight, but I still think there is tons to learn."

WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW THAT YOU DIDN'T KNOW BEFORE THIS RACE? "Just a lot of little nuances about the draft. I had a good run on the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) going into third in the second segment. My run was really strong, and I thought it would be enough to clear him, and it wasn't. The car died out pretty quick when I got down to the bottom in the clean air. Technically I thought that would be an easy pass. Hopefully the 500 car has that kind of muscle, and maybe just this car didn't. Passing is a bit of a challenge. You have to know what you are doing, and work the momentum and see what is happening around you. It is a good challenge. I think it is really challenging. Not just pushing the car as far as you can push it, and as hard as you can push it. You have got to really think about what you are doing up there and what decisions you make, and what lines you get in. We haven't had to worry about what line you get in for year, so that is kind of neat wondering whether the top or the bottom is going to move. Lot of different things happening out there, and everybody is just going to have to learn what works and what doesn't."

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