Late gamble gets Harvick a victory

His Chicagoland win is first since last year

Gordon finishes second

Auto Racing

July 15, 2002|By CHARLOTTE (N.C.) OBSERVER

JOLIET, Ill. - Kevin Harvick helped cause a caution with a wild ride across the apron and ran out of gas on the front stretch yesterday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Harvick also won the Tropicana 400. Therein lies the story.

His fuel didn't run out until after he had taken the checkered flag ahead of Jeff Gordon and started celebrating the first victory of what has been a troubled second season in Winston Cup racing.

His trip across the apron, though, came at a key moment in the second race held at this 1.5-mile track. Last year's inaugural event was the last time Harvick had won.

Just after a restart after a caution, Harvick dove toward the inside to try to pass the Fords being driven by Dave Blaney and Kurt Busch. He went all the way to the slick, flat pavement of the apron to try to complete the pass. When he tried to get back up on the banking in Turn 1, Busch and Blaney were still there and Harvick ran out of room.

"Our race car was so fast while the tires were fresh and I was trying to get everything I could," Harvick said. "I tried to go into the corner and up onto the racetrack in Turn 1. I just lost it. You can't knock us for trying."

Well, yes you can.

"It was a pretty stupid move, in my opinion," Gordon said. "... He about took three-quarters of the field out when he did it, but you have to give him some credit. Not many guys could save that thing. I don't know how he did it."

While Harvick eventually regained control, several cars stacked up in traffic behind him and that brought out a yellow flag. Harvick pitted once to change his flat-spotted tires, then came back in just before the restart, along with Gordon and several others, to fill up on fuel with 67 laps left.

Gordon was 12th and Harvick 13th on the restart, but none of the cars in front of them had the fuel to go the distance. On Lap 240, just as Tony Stewart was trying to grab the lead away from Ryan Newman, Newman's Ford cut a tire and Joe Nemechek's car hit the wall at almost the same time.

That brought out the final yellow and all those needing fuel made their stops. Harvick, who'd passed Gordon during the green-flag laps, and Gordon stayed out and picked up track position neither would relinquish.

In June, team owner Richard Childress shook up his racing operation by switching crews, moving Kevin Hamlin's group to Robby Gordon's car and bringing over the Gil Martin-led crew to Harvick.

Martin made the right calls yesterday.

"I was surprised more teams didn't top off," he said. "I'm glad they didn't. Being out front was everything."

Stewart came back through traffic after his final stop to get third, with rookies Jimmie Johnson and Newman rounding out the top five.

Points leader Sterling Marlin lost a lap after being penalized for pitting outside his pit box and wound up 16th, but retained the lead in the standings by 49 points over Mark Martin, who finished ninth yesterday.

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