Earnhardt's seat gives Harvick chance for unique Winston Cup, Busch double

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

November 11, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Kevin Harvick, the 26-year-old who was asked to step into the seat previously filled by Dale Earnhardt when the seven-time champion died in February, has a kid's smile and the driving style of an Earnhardt impersonator.

But, as the season winds down, Harvick is creating his own legend.

With just three Winston Cup races to go, Harvick is close to becoming the first driver in NASCAR history to complete the full schedule of both the Winston Cup and Busch Series in the same year. Right now he is at 64 races and counting.

"To do what we've done this year, I've driven nearly 17,000 miles and flown around the world almost twice," Harvick said. "People saying we couldn't do this is part of what has kept us going, but if anyone else wants to try it, they ought to talk to me first."

And he isn't just riding around. He's competing. So much so that he has inspired several Winston Cup drivers to say, in less than complimentary tones, "He's a Dale Earnhardt wannabe" and "He thinks he is Dale Earnhardt."

Even so, last weekend, Harvick clinched the Busch Grand National championship, the first second-year Busch driver to do so. And, on the Winston Cup side, where he is a rookie, he has won twice and is ninth in points going into today Pennzoil 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Maybe he won't turn out to be another Earnhardt. Who will? And even he says, "There is no way I can possibly fill Dale Earnhardt's shoes." But, however it turns out over the long haul, Harvick's durability and mental toughness this season has to be admired and appreciated as that of a champion.

Third is good

Baltimore's Chuck Goldsborough, driving the factory-backed si300 Lexus in the Sport Touring Class of the Grand-Am Street Stock Series, finished third in the drivers' standings. His team was also third among team owners, and Lexus was third in the Sport Touring Manufacturers' battle.

"It was so close," Goldsborough said. "We knew we didn't have a chance at the manufacturers' title. Acura had seven cars running and BMW had five, and yet, if we hadn't had trouble with the engines at Phoenix and Watkins Glen, we would have been right there. It was just normal teething problems that are usually worked out before the season starts."

According to Grand Am officials, the ST class was the tightest competition in the series. It went down to the finish of the last race at Daytona International Speedway last week.

Bob Endicott and co-driver Mike Van Sicklen of King Motorsports finished one-two in the drivers' standings with 305 and 302 points, respectively. Goldsborough had 299.

The performances of Endicott and Sicklen helped Acura win the manufacturers' title with 120 points. BMW was second with 116 points, and Lexus was third with 76.

The BMW team of Villaconn International and King Motorsports tied for first, and Team Lexus was third, just three points behind.

Because Lexus decided to switch from the proven GS400 that Goldsborough campaigned in the 1999 and 2000 seasons, the team got a late start. The overall performance of the si300 and Goldsborough's team, however, was not lost on Endicott and Sicklen, who shook Goldsborough's hand after the race in Daytona and said they were "thankful" the Lexus team had gotten a late start.

"The team is absolutely tickled pink with the way we performed," Goldsborough said. "We gave Lexus track records, pole positions, victories and many, many podium finishes. All you have to do is look at the Winston Cup Series, where Dodge returned with nine new teams and haven't come close to displacing Chevrolet, Ford and Pontiac from the top to see how much we accomplished."

Goldsborough credits his team's success to the dedication of his volunteer crew, the support of the team's business partners and the help it receives from Lexus.

DeWalt's crew best

The tension was mounting on Winston Cup driver Matt Kenseth's crew last weekend as it stood waiting on pit road for its DeWalt Ford to come to the pit in the Unocal 76 World Champion Pit Crew contest.

Sitting on the backstretch, where the cars were positioned to begin the competition, Kenseth couldn't get the engine started. So engine man Jeff Paxton rushed to assist. As the rules go, a team has five minutes from the time its number is called to get the car started, and it took all but 30 seconds of that to get the motor going.

But once Kenseth got moving, the crew proved exceptional. It set a world record, changing four tires and adding 14 gallons of fuel in 17.695 seconds.

"That was awesome," said Jon Howland, motorsports manager for the Baltimore-based DeWalt Industrial Tool Co., which sponsors the team. "The guys have been fast all year in the pits. They've kept us competitive in a lot of races and it's good for them to be showcased."

Making up with CART

Baltimore's Steve Chisholm, a CART fan, reminded me the other day that I've been hard on his favorite series. "Perhaps you could spare a single line ... to restore some people's faith that there is good news in CART," Chisholm wrote via e-mail.

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