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Harvick marks himself a contender with win PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, April 13, 2014 8:00 PM

Associated Press

DARLINGTON, S.C. — Kevin Harvick knew his first-year Stewart-Haas Racing team was better than it had shown the past few weeks. After taking the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night, Harvick is convinced the group has exactly what it takes to win a Sprint Cup championship.

“I’m excited about it and I think that’s why everybody on this team came here,” Harvick said. “We came here to race for wins, to be in a position to contend for a championship. I really feel like everybody on this team feels like we bettered ourselves by coming together.”

They took a major step to proving that with Harvick’s first victory in 18 races at the track “Too Tough To Tame.” It made Harvick the first this season with two victories — and a lock for the season-ending, 16-team Chase for a Sprint Cup championship.

The victory also ended a maddening slump where Harvick had finishes of 41st, 39th, 36th, seventh and 42nd in the races since the team’s breakthrough win at Phoenix last month.

Harvick said such a stretch might’ve devastated a lesser team — he pointed to the chaos that’s been the NBA’s Indiana Pacers in recent weeks — but thought his crew kept each other’s spirits up through the down times. The team had a near flawless performance at Darlington, capturing Harvick’s first-ever pole here before his dominating performance (he led 238 out of 374 laps) that was capped when he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the second green-white-checkered finish.

“Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way and you have to be able to put that behind you whether you win or lose,” he explained. “Come Monday morning, we have to put this behind us and say, ‘What do we need to do to get better’?”

The team will have a bit more time for those decisions since the circuit takes its traditional Easter weekend off before resuming at Richmond International Raceway on April 26.

Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers blamed the failings on mistakes he will ensure get corrected. “Without mechanical issues, we could’ve won three races, four races, maybe five races,” Childers said.

Here are five other things to take away from the Southern 500:

FRESH TIRES ARE THE BEST TIRES: Nothing beats fresh rubber, especially at Darlington. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson each chose to take just two tires on a pit stop after a caution 10 laps from the end. Harvick and Childers decided on a full set and that was the difference as the No. 4 Chevrolet moved past Earnhardt on the next to last lap for the victory.

“The ‘4’ just had new tires,” Earnhardt said. “We had 30-something laps on our lefts and that just wasn’t going to get the job done with him right behind us.”

YOUNG GUNS ON THE RISE: The weekend also featured a couple of young racers who look as if they’ll make a mark on this sport. 18-year-old high-schooler Chase Elliott was the talk of the track after his dash to the top on Friday for his second straight victory in the Nationwide Series.

On the Sprint Cup side, 21-year-old Kyle Larson made it through a harrowing weekend where he struck the wall in practice — twice — and had to use a backup car. Still, he wound up eighth, an impressive run at a track that typically chews up and spits out untested drivers.

GOOD ON YA, GORDON: Jeff Gordon still doesn’t have a victory this season but again showed why the 4-time series champion is on a major roll. His No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports car had another top 10 (he was seventh), his sixth in eight races this year. Keep this up and Gordon may not need a win to get him into the chase, assuming there are 15 or fewer winners this season.

“Good to be leading the points (but) I feel like a missed opportunity,” Gordon said.

HENDRICK STRONG: Three of the four Hendrick Motorsports entries finished in the top seven with Dale Earnhardt Jr. second, Jimmie Johnson third and Gordon seventh. The one Hendrick driver not up in the top 10 was Kasey Kahne back in 37th.

WATCH YOUR BACK, CLINT: Clint Bowyer might want to be extra careful around Richmond in two weeks after he got up behind Kurt Busch and spun out the Stewart-Haas Racing driver on the first of two green-white-checkered finishes.

Busch rammed hard into the interior wall but got out of the car fine — and vengeful. He purposely walked up the track as the line of cars moved past, making sure to stare down Bowyer’s No. 15 machine as he drove past.

Mike Conway wins wild IndyCar race at Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Tempers flared in almost every corner of the IndyCar paddock Sunday at Long Beach, where Mike Conway was the surprise winner of a surprisingly physical race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay dominated most of the race but triggered a seven-car accident 24 laps from the finish when he tried to make an aggressive pass of Josef Newgarden. It left team owner Michael Andretti shaking his head in disgust because the accident wiped out both Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe, and Sarah Fisher fumed on Twitter over Newgarden’s day being ruined.

The accident opened the door for Scott Dixon to win the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach for the first time. But he was short on fuel by roughly half a lap and stopped for gas with two laps to go. That gave Conway the lead, and the British driver cruised to his second career win on the temporary street course through the streets of Long Beach.

Conway, who also won at Long Beach in 2011, scored the win for Ed Carpenter Racing, a team that specializes in oval races. But Carpenter decided this year to get out of the car on road and street courses and handed the wheel over to Conway, a driver who at the end of 2012 decided he no longer wanted to race on ovals.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m actually here,” Conway said in Victory Lane. “I wasn’t sure Scott was going to pull in there. I couldn’t see he was saving fuel where he should have been saving. Second would have been good, but this is awesome.”

Dixon said he pitted when he did to avoid potentially running out of gas on the track.

“The last thing I wanted to do was run out of gas in front of the whole field and cause a big accident,” Dixon explained.

One big accident had already occurred — when Hunter-Reay picked the wrong time to try to pass Newgarden.

Newgarden had raced off of pit road in a successful bid to get back onto the track in front of Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe, the two Andretti drivers who had started on the front row.

But on cold tires, he wasn’t going to be able to hold off Hunter-Reay for long. Only Hunter-Reay decided not to wait and tried to pass Newgarden as they entered a tight Turn 4. The two cars collided, Newgarden was sent into the wall and Hunter-Reay bounced into Helio Castroneves’ path.

Hinchcliffe ran into the back of Newgarden — Will Power and Conway successfully squeezed through the wreckage — but three more cars were collected as Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan and Jack Hawksworth all ran into the crashed cars long after the accident began.

Newgarden was polite when he returned to his pit stand.

“I was on cold tires, it’s very hard to control the car, I knew Hunter-Reay was on hot and at some point he was probably going to get me,” Newgarden said. “But I didn’t expect anyone to come up on the inside of four. There’s so little room there, you normally can’t make a pass, even if something like that is going on … the next thing I knew I was in the wall and I was just getting plowed into by everyone.

“That shouldn’t happen up front. It really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t have incidents like that when you are running up front.”

Team owner Fisher was composed when asked about the incident on television but let her true feelings be known on Twitter shortly after: “It was our race to win and we got robbed by immaturity. Period,” she posted.

Andretti seemed shell-shocked at two of his cars being wrecked — “you need to be a little more patient,” he said — and Hinchcliffe didn’t mince words for his teammate.

“At the end of the day, patience is a virtue and someone wasn’t very virtuous day. It was a rookie move,” said Hinchcliffe, who suffered a sprained left thumb and will need to be re-examined before he’s cleared to drive again.

Hunter-Reay didn’t exactly accept responsibility.

“I went for it. I could have waited a little bit later, maybe that’s my fault,” he explained. “It’s down to me to make the pass, I guess, I’m not sure. A lot of people say it’s my fault. I made the decision at that split second when he had some wheel spin to go for it, that’s the type of driver I am. I go for it.

“You don’t know how down I am. Just very, very disappointed. I’ll look at it again but a racing driver, when he’s in the moment and he sees a chance to go for it, I went for it because I want to win the race.”

NASCAR’s Kurt Busch says Haas serious about F1

AUSTIN, Texas — NASCAR driver Kurt Busch said team owner Gene Haas is serious about making a strong entry into Formula One, a move that could expand the series’ footprint in the U.S.

“It will be an incredible challenge. He knows that,” Busch said Sunday at the MotoGP motorcycle race in Texas. “It’s a matter of the fans getting behind it, supporting Gene and trying to give F1 another chance. We’ve had Michael Andretti, before him was his dad. We had Scott Speed as a driver. Now we have an (American) owner. It will be interesting to see how the driver lineup shapes up.”

Haas announced Friday he had been granted a license from Formula One’s governing body to start a team as early as 2015, which would be the first U.S. entry for the series in decades.

At 35, Busch said it won’t be him racing a Haas Formula One car.

“My time has passed to be a competitive driver in F1,” Busch said. “But a test session? I’d jump on that every time. They’re going to have hard time keeping me out of the shop, from hanging out.”

The last attempt for an American Formula One team came in 2010 but the entry lacked funding and development to join. The last U.S.-based team was Parnelli Jones Racing in 1974-76, when Mario Andretti drove. Carl Haas (no relation to Gene) and Teddy Mayer fielded an American team in 1985 and 1986, although they were based in London.

Money is not expected to be a problem for the deep-pocketed Gene Haas, owner of CNC machine manufacturer Haas Automation and the Windshear wind tunnel in North Carolina.

“He’s serious,” Busch said. “You just don’t drop $40 million on a wind tunnel and not think that you’re serious about racing.”

Haas is determined to build his business brand overseas and sees Formula One as the key, Busch noted, adding he recently toured a Haas manufacturing plant and saw the company shipping machines to Malaysia, Sweden and Argentina.

“They’re going all over,” Busch concluded. “F1 is a footprint to advertise and to create your brand’s name in motorsport. You do it in F1, there’s no ranking higher.

Robert Hight wins NHRA Four-Wide Nationals

CONCORD, N.C. — Robert Hight became the first 2-time Funny Car winner in the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals on Sunday, beating John Force, Alexis DeJoria and Tim Wilkerson in the final.

Antron Brown won the Top Fuel division, Jimmy Alund topped the Pro Stock field to become the first European winner in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and Andrew Hines won in Pro Stock Motorcycle in the event that features racing in four lanes instead of the traditional two.

Hight, also the 2012 Four-Wide winner and the Charlotte winner last fall, had a winning pass of 4.074 seconds at 311.34 mph in his John Force Racing Ford Mustang. Hight also won this season in the Gatornationals and extended his lead to 53 points over Force.

“This has been a great weekend,” Hight said. “We love coming to zMAX Dragway. What a better place to bring potential sponsors than this facility. John and I getting to the final made it that much more special. It’s my fourth final in a row and we’ve only missed two rounds in Pomona to start the season.”

Brown won with a 3.800 at 317.42, beating Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd and Doug Kalitta.

Alund, from Sweden, won in his first final appearance. Substituting for Greg Anderson, Alund had a 6.562 at 211.59 in a Chevy Camaro to edge Shane Gray, Vincent Nobile and Erica Enders-Stevens.

Hines won for the second straight race in Charlotte with a 6.859 at 196.10 on a Harley-Davidson. He beat Eddie Krawiec, John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck.

 

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