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.”
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.
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