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KEVIN HARVICK - 2014 Atlanta Race Report
Having a “Freaky Fast” racecar is typically a good thing and leads to positive results. But Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), encountered one costly instance when it doesn’t in the closing moments of Sunday night’s marathon Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Harvick started from the pole and turned in a thoroughly dominating performance by leading seven times for a race-high 195 laps. But his domination went all for naught when, during the night’s first of two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, two cars that lined up side by side ahead of him were anything but Freaky Fast, leading to a three-car pileup and contact by the No. 4 with the outside SAFER Barrier, relegating Harvick to a 19th-place finish.
Just moments earlier, Harvick and eventual race-winner Kasey Kahne were far ahead of the rest of the field, two laps from completing the scheduled 325-lap race distance around the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway quad oval. But the caution flag flew for an accident behind them, and the field made its way down pit road for fresh tires in preparation for the green-white-checkered finish. Denny Hamlin and Harvick were the first two competitors off pit road who took on four tires. Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard, however, each rolled the dice with just a two-tire stop and emerged first and second off pit road, ahead of the third- and fourth-place Hamlin and Harvick.
When the green flag flew, Kenseth made a somewhat clean getaway. But Menard spun his tires and bunched up the outside line of cars being led but Harvick’s Jimmy John’s Chevrolet. Joey Logano quickly came up behind Harvick and Menard and, with nowhere else to go, Harvick was squeezed into the SAFER Barrier. The contact caused heavy suspension damage that required several trips down pit road to repair before the final green-white-checkered finish. Harvick restarted 19th – the final car on the lead lap – and was able to maintain that position to the end.
“Obviously, the 27 (Menard) and 20 (Kenseth) took just two tires, and we knew they were going to have a bad restart,” Harvick said. “I tried to time it to where I could get on the outside (of Menard) but he kept coming up, and I think the 22 (Logano) was still on our outside and it just got crazy there and we all wrecked. I think we all could have given each other more room, but we just wrecked. It’s just everybody going as hard as they could at the end.”
The incident ruined a potential sweep of this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup events for Harvick, who breezed to victory Saturday night in the No. 5 JR Motorsports Nationwide Series Chevrolet. He picked up right where he left off at the start of tonight’s 500-mile Sprint Cup event, leading handily over the race’s first 80 laps. He lost the lead temporarily over the next several rounds of pit stops but always seemed to find his way back to the front – until tonight’s fateful first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.
“You can’t control all the circumstances out there like tonight,” Harvick said. “It’s just unfortunate for everyone on our Jimmy John’s Chevy that everything went the way that it did, but what do you do? Everyone was on the gas at that point, and that’s kind of the nature of the beast, I guess. I hate it for all of our Jimmy John’s guys, but we’ve got some things we need to work on. Our cars are ‘Freaky Fast’ and we’re doing all the things we need to do to keep it that way. We had a hard time getting off pit road tonight ahead of the 11 (Hamlin) and the 20 (Kenseth). Those guys have been really good all year, and that’s one area we just need to fix some things.”
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS, led the way for SHR tonight with a career-best finish of sixth. It was her fourth career top-10 and third this season. The only better finish in a Sprint Cup race by a woman driver was Sara Christian’s fifth-place result on Oct. 2, 1949, at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway. Christian finished sixth at Langhorn (Pa.) Speedway on Sept. 11, 1949, and Janet Guthrie finished sixth at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on Aug. 28, 1977.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 13th after leading once for 22 laps.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 41st after being involved in an accident.
Kahne’s victory in the Oral-B USA 500 was the 17th of his career, his first of the season and his third at Atlanta.
Kenseth finished .574 of a second behind Kahne in the runner-up spot while Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five. Patrick, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 56 laps with five drivers failing to finish the 335-lap race, which was extended due to a green-white-checkered finish.
With round 25 of 36 complete, Harvick leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He is eighth with 748 points, 124 behind first-place Jeff Gordon. Busch is 21st with 614 points, 258 out of first. Stewart is 26th with 540 points, 332 out of first. Patrick is 28th with 500 points, 372 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday, Sept. 6 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its prerace show at 7 p.m.