Luck finally on Kevin Harvick’s side in Darlington G-W-C win (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

A broken wheel hub at Las Vegas.

An oil line failure at Bristol.

A blown tire at Fontana.

An engine failure at Texas.

It had been a tough month and change for Kevin Harvick after his win in March at Phoenix. But it’s all water under the bridge as he’s now fully cemented himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Like Joey Logano last Monday at Texas, Harvick was forced to fight in Green-White-Checkered after dominating tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

And like Logano, he came through in the clutch, going from third to first over two G-W-C attempts to become the first repeat winner of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

“We’ve had to overcome a lot over the last several weeks, but we’ve had really fast cars,” Harvick said in Victory Lane to Fox Sports. “We just kept our heads down and kept doing what we had to do.”

Harvick ultimately led seven times for a whopping 238 laps, marking the fifth time in his career that he’s led at least 200 laps in a single race (he’s now won in four of those five instances).

But he had to go through one last scrap for the trophy when Logano slowed down with an apparent problem to bring out the yellow with 10 laps remaining.

That brought the leaders to the pits to load up on fresh rubber, and while Harvick took four tires, he was dropped to fifth behind Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon – all of whom took two.

A restart ensued with five laps to go, and Harvick was able to get to third place behind Johnson and Earnhardt before debris was spotted in Turn 3 to bring out another yellow with three laps left.

That put the race into G-W-C mode and on the first attempt, Earnhardt and Harvick took advantage of a bad start from Johnson to take first and second before Kurt Busch was tagged from behind by Clint Bowyer in Turn 2.

Busch was sent skidding into the inside retaining wall on the backstretch, forcing the second of a possible three G-W-C attempts.

When G-W-C No. 2 got underway, both Earnhardt and Harvick were able to sail off from Johnson. But as the two headed to Turn 3, Harvick went to the outside and then powered by Earnhardt in Turn 4 to take the lead at the white flag.

It proved to be the race-winning pass as Harvick went on to beat Earnhardt by .439 of a second to earn his inaugural triumph at “The Lady in Black.”

“I needed those Green-White-Checkers,” Harvick said. “The last one is probably the one I needed the most just for the fact that I was able to get really good restarts and able to time the restarts really well – and those guys had older tires and were spinning the tires.

“I knew if I could make it through [Turns] 1 and 2 and close to [Earnhardt], I knew I had the top line down [in Turns 3 and 4] and they were on the bottom.”

As for Earnhardt, he settled for his third runner-up finish of the season, which was still a great bounce-back after crashing out early in Fort Worth.

“[Harvick] had the best car and the best tires,” Earnhardt admitted. “I wasn’t lookin’ in the mirror to tell where anybody was – [spotter] TJ [Majors] said he was coming. I maybe should have run the top there in [Turns] 3 and 4 coming to the white and made him work the bottom to get around us.

“We had a great car. Best finish I’ve had here – I don’t really run that great here, so the guys had to prepare a really good car for us to run that well. I gotta give the National Guard team a lot of credit.”

Johnson, who qualified 26th, rallied from running as far back as 31st in the opening stint of the race to claim a third-place finish at the track where he’s won three times.

Also performing well after a tough qualifying run was Matt Kenseth, who turned in yet another steady ‘Matt Kenseth race’ by finishing fourth after starting from 25th.

Greg Biffle was also sharp tonight, placing fifth for his best result at Darlington since claiming back-to-back wins there in 2005 and 2006.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
Bojangles’ Southern 500
Unofficial Results

1. Kevin Harvick, led 238 laps
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 5 laps
3. Jimmie Johnson, led 8 laps
4. Matt Kenseth, led 12 laps
5. Greg Biffle, led 5 laps
6. Kyle Busch
7. Jeff Gordon, led 8 laps
8. Kyle Larson
9. Tony Stewart
10. Ryan Newman
11. Austin Dillon
12. Clint Bowyer
13. Carl Edwards
14. Marcos Ambrose
15. A.J. Allmendinger
16. Jamie McMurray
17. Brad Keselowski, led 4 laps
18. Casey Mears
19. Denny Hamlin, led 3 laps
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
21. Josh Wise
22. Danica Patrick
TWO LAPS DOWN
23. Justin Allgaier
24. Aric Almirola
25. Landon Cassill
THREE LAPS DOWN
26. Brian Vickers, led 30 laps
27. Martin Truex Jr.
FOUR LAPS DOWN
28. David Gilliland
FIVE LAPS DOWN
29. Alex Bowman
30. Parker Kligerman
31. Kurt Busch, Lap 368, Accident
SEVEN LAPS DOWN
32. David Ragan, led 1 lap
33. Travis Kvapil
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
34. Joe Nemechek

35. Joey Logano, led 37 laps, Lap 359, Front Hub
36. David Stremme, Lap 326, Brakes
37. Kasey Kahne, led 23 laps, Lap 323, Accident
38. Cole Whitt, Lap 301, Running
39. Reed Sorenson, Lap 289, Overheating
40. Ryan Truex, Lap 274, Running
41. Paul Menard, Lap 270, Running
42. Michael Annett, Lap 101, Accident
43. Dave Blaney, Lap 65, Brakes

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s two practices at Barber

IndyCar
Leave a comment

Here’s what drivers had to say after Friday’s two practice sessions for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama (there’s one final practice plus qualifying on Saturday):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “It’s great…home track for me. It wins the war between this place and Indianapolis (Motor Speedway) because it’s an hour closer, so I think that’s why I call it the home track. Unfortunately, we don’t race in Nashville anymore. But I’ve always loved Barber. It is a special place for me. It’s the place I got my first win with CFH (Racing) back in the day, and it’s a place I won my first race for Team Penske. It’s had a couple firsts for me, so it’s been good for that. Good memories. I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint. It’s very technical, but it’s got a lot of flow to it. It feels kind of like a roller coaster to me is the best way to describe the style of it. I have a lot of fun here. I think it’s great. We’re going to try and have a good weekend. We had a pretty good start for the most part. We had some issues in the first session. Just kind of been dealing with a couple things that I think we got sorted out for the second session there, but we seem like we’ve got some speed. I think our other cars got some speed, as well. Simon (Pagenaud) looked like he suffered from maybe a similar problem, and I don’t think Will (Power) had a very good lap, so I think those guys will be right there with us. Team Penske I think is going to be strong tomorrow, I’m sure.

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We’re struggling with understeer in mid-corner, so we need more rotation in the car. If we can fix the mid-corner understeer, we’re going to have a fast car tomorrow. We’ll keep working on it, and hopefully we’ll have a great weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We learned a lot today. We tried to come test here a few weeks ago, but unfortunately Mother Nature had a different plan, so we didn’t get a lot of running in. We came into this weekend with a bit of an evolution from what we tested, still were a little bit off, and over lunch, the Arrow Electronics guys made a couple of great changes. It doesn’t look great on the time sheets because our fast lap was when that red flag came out, so they took it away from us. I think we’re decently inside the top 10, which is a big jump from this morning.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We lost water pressure somewhere in the Lucas Oil car, so we’re playing it safe. No water pressure means no water circulation to the engine, then it overheats and blows up. We’re taking the precautions to keep the engine alive, but unfortunately, we stopped after a couple of laps. It’s an hour free practice and we only did two competitive laps, so we’re just watching everyone else improve their cars and we aren’t able to right now. It’s pretty disappointing.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We’re in the ballpark at the front, which is a good start for the No. 9 PNC Bank team. The Penske cars are up front and I think that’s a result of them doing some additional testing here. We kind of expected that to start. We did a qualifying run and the car was just too loose for some reason. And then we were fighting understeer this morning, so we’ve seen both sides of it. Now it’s up to us to get it right for qualifying tomorrow.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a difficult end to the day for us. I think after starting well this morning, we struggled in the afternoon. It could have been the heat that affected us, I’m not really sure. Tonight, we’ll have to look at the data and what we learned from the NTT DATA car, talk to Scott (Dixon) and look toward tomorrow. I’m optimistic because we have a good base setup and we just need a little bit more work to get it right.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think once again the temperature of the track really makes it tough in these cars. It was very nice this morning and was easy to get lap times. And then all of a sudden this afternoon, even on reds (Firestone alternate tires), it’s very difficult to get the car right. We’re going to have to go back and have a good think about it.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s a difficult day. We’re struggling a lot. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “Today was OK. I didn’t think that we were great there in the second practice, but if you’re off a little bit, it can make a five-, six-, seven-spot difference. It’s going to be really tight (on the time sheets) there tomorrow, so we’ve got to work on it and get it a little better.” (About whether qualifying performance is even more important if rain falls during the race:) “Qualifying will be important, but I think if it’s rainy, I think you will be able to make moves and you will see a lot of guys make mistakes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “I am not quite sure what to think about the whole day. We are not super happy with the car, but in the meantime, it is decently fast. We made some gains and at least the car is doing one thing, so that’s the good thing. The SealMaster Honda No. 18 is in the ballpark. It seems like all we are doing right now is preparing for qualifying because it is definitely going to rain on Sunday. We are going to have to think very hard on what we are going to do in those conditions. We just have to keep working and see what we get tomorrow.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “We didn’t have a great morning aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car as we struggled a bit with the balance, but the second practice session was a lot better. We ended up P12, but had the potential for a lot more. When we went out on the Firestone red (alternate) tires near the end of the session, a red flag came out and that didn’t help us. I think we definitely could have been in the top 10, maybe even the top five. Overall, it’s encouraging heading into practice and qualifying tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “This morning was really good and we made some good progress. For this afternoon’s session, we changed a couple of things to see if they helped. We’re keeping the tradition, though, of not getting a lap time on reds (Firestone alternate tires), between traffic and red flags and yellows. We are farther down than I think we should be. We should be quite a bit quicker, probably seven or eight tenths faster than what we were. We’re not a million miles away. We just need a few more small improvements to get me a bit more comfortable with the car.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “That was a really good session. It’s nice to end up at the front here at Barber. It’s one of my favorite tracks, I really enjoy it. The session was good right from the get-go on black (Firestone primary) tires. We were quite fast, then when we put the reds (Firestone alternate tires) on, the car just gained more grip. Sometimes when you put them on, it can really change the balance, but this time it felt really good. We were able to get a little more out of the car in pretty much every corner. I’m very happy with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy so far, hopefully we can keep it up there.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The car is really fast. It was a really good session to start. But unfortunately, we had a bit of a spin on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) trying a little too hard, I guess. That’s what you have to do before qualifying. You have to find the limits, but I’m very happy with the Menards car. I think we’ll be in great shape tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “So far, it’s just been really nice to have experience at this track, which makes it a little easier coming in. We’ve been trying a lot of things today and I think we were a little stronger in the morning than this afternoon. We have a bit to go back and look at, but compared to where I was here last year, it’s night and day difference. I’m just happy to have the opportunity that we do, and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “This morning was definitely a struggle for all of us. I think the No. 27 car was the most outside of the window, but we made a lot of improvements over lunch. We have something to be positive about going into this evening and looking forward to tomorrow. I think we need to take one or two steps in a similar direction, but if we can do that, I think the Kerauno car will be good enough for the Firestone Fast Six.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think we made steady progress through the day. We started out with the rear of the car way too exposed, too loose through most corners. We needed to bring it more into the window, which I think we did in the final session, considering we didn’t get a full run on new red tires due to a red flag. I think the DHL car has some good pace in it, so hopefully we can make the next step tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “The second session was better. I think we made some good progress from the first one. The first session was a little bit of finding the right direction to go in and it seems we found one. Still, we have a little work to be done Saturday. Having said that, there was quite a few yellows and red flags that interrupted the session. I know everyone is in the same boat, but our best lap was like a rerun and we were never able to do a long run, so it’s a little gray on how we will be for Sunday (in the race). We lost some downforce compared to last year and the tires have quite a good drop-off, or degradation, so after you use them the first or second timed lap, the tires are losing a lot of grip. It’s not a huge amount, we’re talking about a small amount, but it’s enough to make a difference. We are trying a different kind of philosophy in terms of the mechanical setup, trying to match the balance and grip level of where we were last year, so that’s why everyone is trying different things. Some people struggle, some people find a happy place.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “I think that the practice went well in the beginning. We did find some improvement, so it went better and better. Then we put the red tires on and I tried to push hard and maybe a little too much. I then lost the car, it went straight into the wall. It was a little bit too late with my hands, taking them off the steering wheel, so my left hand hurts a little bit.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Tough day for us today. We had a mechanical issue towards the end of Practice 2, so it cut our time on track short. I know the Harding Racing guys are working hard to make sure everything will be good to go tomorrow for Practice 3 and qualifying. We’ll keep at it tonight to be ready to push tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda): “The Kerauno car was decent today, and coming out of Friday in the top 10 is a good place to start the weekend. We have a few things we want to work on overnight that I think will help the car be even better, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. Hoping to make it into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow and challenge for the pole.”