Harvick redeems himself and his team

Three weeks after losing 25 points and his crew chief, Kevin Harvick comes from last to win at Bristol.

Associated Press
Published April 4, 2005

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Kevin Harvick's crew chief was at home, banned from the track. His car owner was complaining to anyone who would listen that the penalties NASCAR levied against Harvick's team were too severe.

Unable to win in court, Harvick and Richard Childress Racing scored the only victory that mattered: on the track.

Three weeks after a cheating scandal, Harvick ended a 55-race winless streak Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"I think both of us have been beat down pretty far at some point in our racing careers, and you have to learn how to get out of a hole," Harvick said. "I think that is one thing that RCR has always been really good at. They always come back stronger than they were before.

"So this was a huge statement made by our race team, and you don't have to say anything else."

It has been a long three weeks for the RCR team since crew chief Todd Berrier got caught rigging Harvick's fuel tank to appear full when it actually wasn't during qualifying at Las Vegas.

NASCAR called it blatant cheating, suspending Berrier for four races and fining him $25,000. Harvick also lost 25 points. And an appeal was denied.

So Childress, who used to be a regular atop the late Dale Earnhardt's pit box, decided to climb back on to coach Harvick in a show of solidarity for the team. It was the owner's first time on the box since 2001.

Harvick said it showed how angry his boss was and how determined Childress was to turn things around.

And in a wreck-filled race, Childress coaxed Harvick around Bristol's tight 0.533-mile track for his first victory since the Brickyard 400 in August 2003.

"He can't come down until we lose," Harvick said.

But Childress said his stay was temporary.

"I'd stay up there if I thought it would help us win every week," he said.

Still, RCR got its first win at Bristol since Earnhardt bumped Terry Labonte out of the way on the final lap in 1999.

Harvick qualified 13th, but when his crew uncovered the No.29 Chevrolet a few hours before the race, they found a puddle of leaking power steering fluid. The team had to fix it, and the unapproved repairs forced Harvick to start last among the 43-car field.

"To start at the back is a lot better than to have no power steering," Harvick said.

And even though no other driver had come from last to win at Bristol, Childress told the team it could be done.

"I told all the guys, "It's kind of a negative, and we don't have our crew chief here. But we have to turn it into a positive,"' Childress said. "And that's what Kevin did."

He took the lead with 66 laps left, pulled away from the pack and easily beat pole-sitter Elliott Sadler to the finish line with seven lapped cars separating the first- and second-place cars.

"Harvick had a great race car. He was able to pass cars, maneuver his around," Sadler said. "He was tough there at the end. I didn't have anything for him."

Tony Stewart finished third in a Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth in a Chevrolet and Dale Jarrett fifth in a Ford.

Sadler led the first lap, the only clean lap run before Bristol started being Bristol.

Kasey Kahne got loose off Turn 2 after contact from Stewart, and as the impact rippled through the pack, the trouble eventually hit Jason Leffler, who spun to the outside.

That kicked off a chain reaction in which Hermie Sadler got hit from behind by Carl Edwards' Ford, knocking Sadler into Leffler's and knocking out the radiator in Edwards' car. Edwards' No.99 went behind the wall for repairs.

The biggest wreck came with 167 laps left and stopped the race for almost 14 minutes. Bobby Hamilton Jr. slammed into the back of Ken Schrader, starting a 14-car pileup. The crash involved many of the favorites, including Kurt Busch, who was looking for his fourth consecutive Bristol victory.

"I just screwed up, and I'm going to tuck my tail between my legs and head back to Nashville," Hamilton said.

The race restarted with just 12 cars on the lead lap.

Busch was one, but his day ended when Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Burton made contact and Burton's car banged off the inside wall. As it ricocheted back onto the track, it moved directly into Busch's path.

Busch sounded woozy when he slowly radioed his crew to say he was okay.

"It was a hard hit. It took the wind out of me," Busch said. "I feel horrible. I've never hit that hard before."

Burton, meanwhile, waited for Johnson to come back around the track under caution and angrily pointed at him as he passed.

"Jimmie is a great driver, and I know he didn't do it on purpose," Burton said. "He's got to be better than that, and I won't put up with it. I know he didn't do it on purpose, but we're responsible for driving these race cars. And when something happens behind the wheel, it's his fault."