Charlotte Update: Harvick leads, Dale Jr. battling shifter problem

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Fast as usual, Kevin Harvick leads at the halfway point of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

At Lap 167 of 334, Harvick was leading two non-Chase drivers in Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray. Another early leader, Jeff Gordon, was situated in fourth and Brad Keselowski had made his way up to fifth.

Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, and Brian Vickers comprised the remainder of the Top 10.

Meanwhile, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is mired in mid-pack due to a shifter problem that developed shortly after Lap 130. After leading some laps early on, Junior is running 22nd on a night where he must perform well in order to recover from his crash last weekend at Kansas in the Contender Round opener.

Pole sitter Kyle Busch led the first 13 laps of the race before Gordon went to the outside and took the point at Lap 14. Gordon would pace the field up to the Lap 25 competition caution (occurring due to an earlier shower at the track this afternoon).

A two-tire stop under that yellow enabled birthday boy Earnhardt to jump Kyle (four tires) for the lead going into the restart at Lap 31. But Kyle quickly dispatched Earnhardt for the lead moments after the green flag, and Earnhardt subsequently faded back to fifth by Lap 40.

Gordon re-asserted himself and again grabbed the lead at Lap 38, and one lap later, Harvick moved by Busch himself for second position. Meanwhile, Keselowski and Larson started to make their presence felt by moving into the Top 10 after having sub-par qualifying sessions on Thursday.

Green flag stops began at Lap 70 with Joey Logano, who had a poor opening stint and was 23rd at the time but can afford a bad night thanks to his win last week at Kansas.

Gordon and Harvick followed by pitting together from first and second at Lap 75, triggering a rush to the pits among the rest of the leaders.

Keselowski’s stop at Lap 79 ended the cycle with Gordon, Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, and Earnhardt as the Top 5; Keselowski wound up ninth but was up to seventh at Lap 90.

On Lap 95, the second caution of the night flew for Clint Bowyer slowing on the track with what appeared to be an engine failure on his Toyota. Another wave of yellow-flag stops ensued and once again, Earnhardt jumped to the lead with a two-tire call.

But also taking two was McMurray, and following the restart at Lap 100, Big Mac drove by on the outside in the tri-oval to take the point. His stint in P1 was short-lived, however, as Harvick passed McMurray in the tri-oval himself to become the new leader at Lap 105.

Also pushing hard off the restart was Keselowski, who made his first appearance of the night in the Top 5 as Earnhardt dropped out of the same bracket with the two fresh tires. Johnson was also doing well at this point, having moved up from 21st on the grid to eighth at Lap 118.

While those charges were taking place, Harvick had stretched out his lead over Gordon to more than six seconds before Paul Menard’s engine blew up down the backstretch at Lap 136 to bring out the caution.

Before that yellow came out, Earnhardt reported to the pits that his gear shifter had broken in his hand and he was forced to go to the pits. He pitted again while the leaders had normal yellow-flag service (which ended with Harvick keeping his lead), but was then hit with a speeding penalty.

Eventually, crew chief Steve Letarte opted to have Junior stay out instead of going back in for another stop so he could stay on the lead lap.

He took the restart at Lap 143 in 23rd, last among those on the lead lap.

NHRA: Steve Torrence’s 2nd Top Fuel title was emotional roller coaster day

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There’s no question Steve Torrence is a proud Texan. When he’s not strapping on his racing helmet, the Kilgore, Texas resident proudly wears a black cowboy hat and shiny boots practically everywhere he goes.

It’s just part of who one of the Lone Star State’s favorite sons is.

Torrence also has a great deal to be proud of after winning his second consecutive Top Fuel championship in Sunday’s NHRA season-ending national event at Pomona, California.

In doing so, he joins seven of the biggest names in drag racing history to win back-to-back titles: Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

Torrence followed up last season’s 11 wins – including being the first driver to win all six Countdown to the Championship playoff races – with nine wins in 2019, giving him 36 career wins and 55 final round appearances in his career.

But as he was interviewed shortly after he clinched the championship — even though he lost in the semifinal round of eliminations — instead of being effusive and ecstatic, Torrence was also uncharacteristically somewhat solemn and melancholy at the same time.

After publicly thanking his team – “the best in the business,” as Torrence frequently says – he also quickly paid tribute to a young man from Texas by the name of Brandon Seegers, who was tragically killed in an ATV accident last week (the young man in glasses is pictured in the tweet below).

Torrence wanted the world to know who Brandon was, calling him one of Torrence Racing’s biggest fans. It wasn’t lip service. Brandon – a 15-year-old freshman football player at Carthage (Texas) High School – truly was one of Torrence’s biggest supporters. He’ll be buried Tuesday.

Torrence also paid tribute to Brandon’s parents. The young man’s father has worked 30 years for Capco Contractors Inc., an oil and gas company owned by Torrence’s family. In a sense, because of their close relationship, Brandon and his parents are extended members of the Torrence family.

“This is for the Seegers family, who lost their little boy the Wednesday of last week,” Torrence said. “He was the biggest Capco fan there was. We’re taking the championship trophy home to him. We’re going to give it to all the Capco guys and his family.”

Admit it, when was the last time you heard someone in sports win a championship and then dedicate that effort to a young fan who was tragically killed just a few days earlier in an accident.

But that’s the kind of guy Torrence is, one of the classiest individuals in motorsports. And if you don’t really know who he is, you should, because you might understand why Torrence is who he is.

At the age of 36, Torrence is not just a survivor of the 1,000-foot dragstrips wars from New Hampshire to Seattle to Phoenix to Gainesville and everywhere in-between.

He’s also a survivor of something much more important: Before he was Steve Torrence, two-time NHRA Top Fuel champ, he was Steve Torrence, cancer and heart attack survivor. That kind of thing gives someone a much different perspective than most other individuals.

Torrence knows how fortunate he is to not only be a two-time champion, but more importantly, to be alive to earn and enjoy both of those titles. He came close, really close, to not being here anymore. That’s why Brandon’s death hit Torrence so hard.

He even tried to keep from choking up when he told the crowd about who his young friend Brandon was.

Torrence spent much of the weekend at Pomona thinking about his young fan. It definitely affected Torrence’s mindset and demeanor, especially on Sunday, with the pressure packed championship on the line.

To illustrate how different Torrence acted, he was involved in an incident after the first round that was completely out of character. While he may be one of the most competitive drivers on the NHRA circuit, he’s also normally a very level-headed, calm and cool persona.

Torrence uncharacteristically slapped young opponent and part-time Top Fuel driver Cameron Ferre in the face at the end of the drag strip after they climbed from their race cars following their first round run and exchanged words.

Normally a fan favorite, Torrence was uncharacteristically criticized on social media and was met with a wave of fan boos after the race when he climbed on stage to accept his championship trophy and the big check that came with it. A contrite Torrence eventually issued a public apology to both Ferre and fans, admitting he was wrong. The NHRA is reviewing the incident and still could penalize Torrence.

“Tensions are high,” Torrence told NHRA.com. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked to Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”

Given the championship pressure and what he was enduring emotionally, Sunday may not have been Torrence’s finest moment or best day professionally or personally. But at the same time, he further cemented why he’s on his way to becoming one of the best drivers in Top Fuel history, that he makes mistakes and was man enough to admit when he made one.

He also cares for others and what they go through perhaps more than most because he himself came so close to not being around to enjoy the success he has enjoyed to date – and all the additional success that he’s likely to continue to enjoy for many more years to come.

 

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