Kevin Harvick, No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Pontiac Excitement 400, Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, VA NASCAR Winston Cup rookie of the year contender, Kevin Harvick, qualified 32nd for Saturday's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet
Pontiac Excitement 400, Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, VA
NASCAR Winston Cup rookie of the year contender, Kevin Harvick, qualified 32nd for Saturday's Pontiac Excitement 400 at Richmond. The GM Goodwrench team suffered a minor setback during "Happy Hour" practice when the engine on the No. 29 let go and Harvick was sent back to the garage. The team worked feverishly to replace the engine and changed it with just minutes left to go in practice. Harvick was therefore, going to have to compete in his first Winston Cup race at Richmond without the benefit of final practice.
Harvick noticed early in the race that the car was way too tight in the middle of the corners, which made it very difficult to protect the bottom, which is critical at Richmond. Despite the problem, however, Harvick checked in 17th in the running order on lap 101 during a long green flag run. Harvick was close to going a lap down to the leader at the time, Rusty Wallace, and when he pitted the team decided to pull the right rear spring rubber. The adjustment took a few seconds, but was enough to cause Harvick to go down a lap to the leaders.
Even though the car was tight in the first half of the race, Harvick was able to claw his way through traffic. He climbed to 20th from as low as 28th by lap 200. Chassis adjustments on the pit stop on lap 200 began to pay off shortly thereafter when Harvick radioed in on lap 233 that the car was the best that it had been all night. The changes had altered the handling characteristics of the car making it loose going into the corners, but strong in the middle and off of the corners. At Richmond where it's important to go easy into the corners but accelerate aggressively off, Harvick found the car to be much more competitive.
Harvick raced hard in the late stages of the race to keep contact with the leaders, with the hope of getting his lap back if a caution flag were to fly. Harvick was close to the leaders at the time, Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon on lap 287. He desperately needed a caution and didn't get it until it was too late on lap 297.
By lap 345, Harvick was running the same lap times as the leaders and he picked up four positions among the cars running one lap down. He finished 17th.
"The guys improved the Goodwrench Monte Carlo all night long," Harvick said. "We were really tight early on in the race and you don't want to be tight at Richmond with the long, sweeping turns. But Kevin (Hamlin, crew chief) made some good calls on the changes and we were running as fast as the leaders at one point. The problem was that we were a lap down at the time and it was hard to make up a lot of positions. We definitely had a top 10 car as the race went on. With a little track position, we could've run right up there."
Harvick jumped one position in the points 12th, just 98 points behind 10th place Dale Earnhardt Jr. even though the rookie of the year contender has one fewer start than the top 34 cars in Winston Cup. Harvick reclaims the lead in the Rookie of the Year race by one point over Kurt Busch.
Stewart won the race by holding off Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace in the closing laps.
The Winston Cup Series enjoys a weekend off for Mother's Day weekend, although Harvick is competing at Loudon in the Busch Series.