Kevin Harvick far from being happy after Paul Menard wrecks him, costing a chance for win

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Kevin Harvick was happily motoring along Sunday night to what appeared would be a second dominating win in two nights at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

After leading 159 laps in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, Harvick led 195 laps in Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

But late in the event, Paul Menard slid up the track into Harvick, the two cars made contact – collecting Joey Logano in the process – and Harvick ultimately wound up going from what looked like a sure win from the pole to a disappointing 19th-place finish.

Rather than becoming the sixth driver to win three races this season, Harvick dropped one place in the Sprint Cup standings, falling from seventh to eighth with one regular season race remaining this coming Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

“We all probably could have given each other more room,” Harvick said. “I knew the No. 27 (Menard) was going to get a bad restart and I tried to time it to where I could get on the outside of him.

“I got on the outside of him and he just kept coming up and I wasn’t going to let off the gas; I knew the No. 22 (Logano) was up there. The No. 27 kept coming up and just came up until we all wrecked.”

 

MORE: Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase

 

BOWYER BOONDOGGLE: Clint Bowyer’s hopes of making this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup appear slim at best following Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Instead of getting closer to locking himself into the Chase in the race, Bowyer instead fell outside the top 16 Chase qualifiers with a disappointing 38th-place finish.

Early in the race, Bowyer suffered a broken shifter in his Toyota, prompting him to go back to the garage and miss more than 20 laps while his team made necessary repairs.

Bowyer is now ranked 17th in the Chase lineup, meaning next Saturday night’s race at Richmond will very likely be a make-or-break situation for him.

He trails Greg Biffle, who remains on the Chase bubble in 16th place, by 23 points – a rather formidable amount to make up in just one race.

Bowyer would have to finish between 19 and 21 positions higher (depending upon how many laps either driver might lead) than Biffle at Richmond.

 

MORE: Tony Stewart’s comeback hopes end with rough 41st-place finish at Atlanta

 

AMBROSE’S CHASE HOPES SINK: Marcos Ambrose came into Sunday night’s race hoping to pull out a Hail Mary win and earn a berth in the upcoming Chase.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite the way Ambrose hoped for when the motor on his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion blew up on Lap 123, ending his night.

 

 

I AM IRONMAN: NASCAR’s reigning ironman, Jeff Gordon, made the 750th consecutive start Sunday night of his more than two-decade Sprint Cup career.

Ironically, Atlanta Motor Speedway was the site of Gordon’s first career Cup start in the 1992 season finale.

“That is a big number,” Gordon said. “I hadn’t thought about it a whole lot until I saw a decal with it made up. I thought, ‘Man, that is a lot of races, especially in a row.’ I’m really proud of that, it’s been an amazing career in the Cup Series.

“It seems like it was yesterday that it started right here over 20 years ago. I love this track. I love racing here so it’s pretty cool to have 750 happening here.”

Gordon is now in his 22nd full-time season on the Sprint Cup Series. He’s managed to stay behind the wheel for every race of that stretch, even though there have been times he’s been in a great deal of pain resulting from prior crashes or back issues that have beset him the last several years.

Still, Gordon has no regrets.

“Here we are at 750,” he said. “At the time I didn’t really think about that, but now I look back on it and it’s something I’m proud of.”

But don’t expect Gordon to go another 22 seasons.

“I can guarantee there won’t be another 750,” Gordon said with a laugh.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1: USGP post-qualifying reactions on NBCSN

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Here are post-qualifying quotes from drivers following the session today at the United States Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton extended his record with 72 poles and then broke a tie with Michael Schumacher for his 117th front row start.

TOP 3 WORLD FEED INTERVIEWS – WITH NBCSN’S WILL BUXTON

1. 44-Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes

“The team have done a great job. Track was very difficult with the wind picking up. There was a head wind into Turn 1, then a tail wind out of 1, then Sector 1 tail wind, then a head wind into 9, so it shifts through the lap. You have to gauge how hard to push. That’s why I love this track, especially when you have a car this good.”

“I think it’s highly unlikely (to clinch the championship). Sebastian did a great job to bring the Ferrari back up there. Ultimately all I can do is the best of my abilities.

“Sebastian’s right there. Unless he makes a silly mistake – which is quite unlikely as he’s a four-time World Champion – we’ll see it continue on to other races.”

2. 5-Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari

“I was very happy at the end but was lacking a bit of rhythm first to second sector. Finally I got it right at the end when it mattered. I believe our race pace is very good. Quali, we’ve been just a bit behind. Congrats to Lewis.”

3. 77-Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes

“Definitely disappointing. It was looking good, quite close with Lewis. Disappointing but there’s always tomorrow.”

OTHER INTERVIEWS (Alonso, Ocon, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Hartley with Buxton; rest with BBC Radio 5 Live reporter Jennie Gow, while Buxton was handling world feed top three) 

4. 3-Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull

“Happy with what I did in the last run! Today overall not really, until that last run. We were a bit off the pace. We found something. I’m just more happy with how we turned it around. I was 10th in Q1, but then we made it less than half a second. Let’s go for win number two. That sounds a lot sweeter and has a better ring to it!”

5. 7-Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari

“Probably not (as to get the most out of it). This is what we got today. Some places were more difficult. It was hard to get it right. Some laps were good. It was difficult to put a lap together. I don’t know. I have no idea how tomorrow will go.”

6. 33-Max Verstappen, Red Bull (has 15-spot grid penalty; will start 18th)

“Everything seemed to work pretty OK. I made two big mistakes in the last run. I was surprised to be that close (to them). I should have been near Sebastian. Look at sector times; it all looked OK. If you make two mistakes, it’s not all there. It’s my worst qualifying of the year.

“In qualifying we lose a lot on the straights. We get close. I have to fight harder. I’ll try to show tomorrow what I didn’t do today.”

7. 31-Esteban Ocon, Force India

“I feel sick all the session. Massive headache. I took something during session. My stomach was upside down. I’m not going too close to you. Hopefully can recover and be ready to attack tomorrow.”

8. 55-Carlos Sainz Jr., Renault

“(I’m) very happy with that, and how everything’s gone so far. It was quite tough track conditions with the wind is picking up. You have to know how the car will react. I built it up over the whole session, more than a second. P8 with a penalty in front of us, I think we can be pretty pleased with that. Just want a clean race. Don’t want anything more than that. We’ll see what the strategies are. I’ve been focusing on short running so far. A clean race, if we do that, we can be in the points for the team.”

9. 14-Fernando Alonso, McLaren

“It felt great. We had difficult conditions. Very windy and quite hot. The grip was lower than we expected. The McLaren car performed extremely well. We went into Q3. In Q3 we were ninth, and we’ll be eighth with the Verstappen penalty. A great chance to score points. (with long straights, maybe not as bad?)

“We’ll see. We seem to compare with the other teams. There’s still a deficit on the straights. We’re a little bit exposed in first lap in the group. After that’s settled, we can open the gap in high speed section and defend better. We’ll try defend these first laps as best we can.”

10. 11-Sergio Perez, Force India

“It was good. We had good pace in the car today. But my qualifying was compromised big time when Kevin (Magnussen) blocked me. I had to use an extra set. So in Q3 I only had a single set. It was strange; it was quite understeery. Lost 4 tenths to Q2, and that meant P10. Definitely tomorrow I will be able to recover, move forward. It’ll be a tricky run. There are a lot of things that can happen. It’ll be important to get a good race in. Crossed fingers! (to survive Turn 1).”

14. 8-Romain Grosjean, Haas

“Yeah, it’s been a tough weekend. I didn’t run any ultrasofts before quals. Then I spun before. The one on Lance Stroll was close. I was lucky not to spin in the grass. That would have been the end of it. We made it to Q2, which was good I thought. We closed the gap from 0.7 to 0.3, but we haven’t been performing that well. It’s not the upgrade that’s been the issue; it’s been more tire-related. And that’s why we’ve had such a swing in performance. Malaysia nowhere, Japan we’re good, now here it’s mixed.

“(On Haas Hill:) That was amazing. The support we have here is insane! I waved at them in quali after I was done. I’m sure the fans will give us something special.”

15. 27-Nico Hulkenberg, Renault (has 20-spot grid penalty, will start 19th)

“(Not running is) not by choice but it is what it is. We have the plus-20 engine penalty. It doesn’t make sense to keep running. We want to keep the flexibility in strategy to start on whatever tire. We have been reasonably competitive and have a big challenge on our hands right from the back. I’m trying to be positive. Hopefully can overtake a lot of cars. Look forward to better racing.”

18. 39-Brendon Hartley, Toro Rosso (has 25-spot grid penalty, will start 20th)

“Obviously I’d love to be quicker but we knew we were starting at the back. Put a lot of focus on long runs. Getting the peak performance out of this Pirelli tire I didn’t get today. Free practice three had a good feeling. There’s a lot of quirky things to manage with these tires. Honestly I should be happy with how the weekend’s gone so far. I don’t do the 24 hours completely alone! It’s quick. It’s physical to drive. I’ll be happy to be done after an hour and a half. A point would be a dream starting from the back. If I can move forward and put a race together, I’ll be happy.”