That’s Bristol, baby: Battling for lead, Harvick wrecks Hamlin, Earnhardt gets collected

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Kevin Harvick got the lead in Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but it probably wasn’t exactly the way he wanted it to happen.

Denny Hamlin was leading the 500-lap race when Harvick attempted to get behind him on Lap 161.

Unfortunately for Hamlin, Harvick apparently misjudged how much room he had, got a bit too close and spun the No. 11 Toyota.

“I’m sorry, it was a mistake, a misjudgment,” Harvick said over his team radio.

Hamlin’s spinning Toyota then collected Dale Earnhardt Jr., who tried to squeeze by on the right side, only to have virtually the entire left side of his Chevrolet ripped open like a sardine can.

Hamlin threw his HANS device at Harvick’s car when the latter circled around the track — in the lead, no less —  two laps later. That will likely result in a fine and points penalty from NASCAR in the coming days.

Hamlin and Harvick had a similar instance in last year’s race at Bristol, where Hamlin wrecked Harvick.

“Last year he was just not paying attention,” Hamlin told ESPN during the caution. “I had a cut tire last year. He thinks he knows everything and probably thought he knew everything again. I just wish I had some car left so I could show him back.”

But then Hamlin did a surprising 180-degree reflection, actually trying to understand the error of Harvick’s way. Perhaps he was hoping a mea culpa might prompt NASCAR to lessen any potential penalty for throwing his head-and-neck restraint device.

“It’s a misjudgment,” Hamlin added about Harvick. “He’s a good driver. He knows better. He just made a mistake.”

On second thought, maybe Harvick’s action was exactly what he planned on doing in the first place. Can you say “payback”?

Or as they like to say, “It’s Bristol, baby.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

Follow@KyleMLavigne