Kevin Harvick looks forward to going to Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis. Not only does he enjoy the challenge of the uniquely shaped 1.25-mile oval, returning to the site of his first career win in the Busch Series brings back...
Kevin Harvick looks forward to going to Gateway International Raceway outside St. Louis. Not only does he enjoy the challenge of the uniquely shaped 1.25-mile oval, returning to the site of his first career win in the Busch Series brings back many good memories.
This weekend, however, was a little busier than last year with Harvick running the fourth of six double duty weekends where he's running Winston Cup and Busch at different tracks in different states.
After qualifying 24th Friday at Loudon, N.H. for the Cup race while running his race setup, Harvick jumped on a plane for Gateway where he qualified second to Greg Biffle that evening. The ACDelco team primarily worked on race setup because Harvick would have to skip Busch "Happy Hour" practice in order to participate in the final practice at Loudon.
As the Busch race went green for the first time Saturday evening, Harvick knew he had a contender. He noticed the car was a little loose off of the corners, but he was still able to keep up with Biffle who was the leader at the time. They separated themselves from the rest of the field by running 0.2 seconds faster as Harvick looked to grab the top spot. Harvick wrestled the lead from Biffle on lap 31.
The first round of pit stops came on lap 44 when Harvick pitted for four tires, fuel and a suspension adjustment. He returned to the track in second. He grabbed the lead again several laps later and cruised in the point position ahead of Biffle on lap 77.
The next round of stops came under caution on lap 96 when Harvick called for a small adjustment for more forward bite. Harvick returned to the track in second.
The action resumed fast and furious on lap 106 and Harvick began pressuring Biffle for the lead on lap 117. As the cars ran nose-to-tail, it became obvious that Harvick was better through the corners, but Biffle was accelerating slightly better off. Harvick kept after him and was able to wear him down and reclaim the lead by lap 128.
As the long green flag run went on, Harvick distanced himself from the field as his car got better as laps ticked off. The ACDelco team was preparing themselves for green flag stops when the caution flag flew on lap 159.
Crew chief Todd Berrier called Harvick to the pits for four tires and fuel on lap 161. Harvick returned to the track first among the cars that took four tires, but six others only took two. So with a sense of urgency, Harvick restarted the race in seventh on lap 165 and turned to trying to negotiate his way through traffic to return to the front. Harvick got to sixth by lap 177 as things became very tense while drivers jockeyed for position. Harvick used his superior handling to reel in the leaders and by lap 178 he had the fourth position. Second place was his just three laps later and then he set his sights on Jeff Green. Harvick looked like he might drive away with the race when he took the lead on lap 185, but second place Jason Keller had other ideas.
Harvick and Keller began one of the classic duels in all of NASCAR this season when Keller passed Harvick for the lead on lap 187. Harvick wrestled it back from him on lap 190 and lost it again one lap later. Things were tense as Keller opened up a four-car length lead, but Harvick used the strong handling through the corners to pull up to his back bumper. Harvick set him up nicely and was able to get by for the final time on lap 196 and he drove onto victory lane for the third time this season.
"Once I got by the 57," Harvick said, "I didn't think he'd have anything for us. We didn't think taking two tires was the right move especially for us since we had the best car all night. Jason's car got a lot better on two new tires and he gave us everything we could handle. I thought for a second after he passed us that I couldn't get it back. But I stayed patient and waited for my opportunity. The ACDelco car was so good that I was able to get right back to him and wait for my opening."
"It was really a lot of fun over those last laps. We didn't expect that many cars to take two tires on the last stop. We thought maybe two or three. But whenever you have 25 laps to go and six or seven cars ahead of you, you worry about getting back to the front. I can't say enough about these guys. They gave me a car that was hard to beat. Our pit stops were really strong and that helped us maintain good track position all night long."
This is the second win for Harvick during his six-week double duty weekend called "Happy's Big Adventure." The other win came at Kentucky Speedway during the Kentucky-Pocono weekend in June.
ACDelco has dominated Gateway International Raceway. With Harvick's second consecutive win and two wins from Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 3 ACDelco Chevrolet in 1998 and '99, ACDelco has won the last four races in a row and four of the five races since the track opened in '97.
Harvick extended his points lead to 158 points over Biffle as the series heads this week to Colorado for race number 21 at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Harvick will be doing double duty again as the Cup Series races in Pocono. Logistically and in terms of distance, this will be the most difficult of Happy's Big Adventure weekends. If he is able to get through this weekend without problems, it will be smooth sailing until the last double duty weekend Oct. 13 & 14 at Memphis and Martinsville.