Sunday, June 17, 2001

Harvick cruises to Busch victory

By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kevin Harvick hoists the trophy.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        SPARTA, Ky. — Rising NASCAR star Kevin Harvick charmed a sellout crowd and dominated the Busch Outback Steakhouse 300 on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, with a runaway victory over Greg Biffle.

        Harvick, the man who replaced the late Dale Earnhardt in the major-league Winston Cup series, showed why he is leading the points race in the Busch series, NASCAR's No. 2 tier.

        With NASCAR president Mike Helton part of the largest crowd ever (70,388) for a Greater Cincinnati sports event, Harvick led the final 131 laps of the 200-lap event. And he did so in his backup car, after reserve driver Mike Bliss wrecked his primary car Friday.

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Harvick salutes the crowd by smoking his tires in front of the grandstand.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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Harvick is showered with confetti in the winner's circle.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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Harvick leads halfway through the race.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        “To come back from what these (crew) guys came back from, that just shows the strength of this team,” said Harvick. “I can't say enough about them.”

        Harvick's first phase of his double-duty weekend earned him $86,500 of the $1.15 million purse. Saturday night, he flew back to Pocono, Pa., to compete in Sunday's Winston Cup race, where he finished 15th.

        He had commuted between the two sites since Thursday, for various practices and qualifying. Bliss had been trying to get in some practice laps for Harvick while Harvick was qualifying Friday for the Winston race in Pocono.

        “I have to check where I am, after so many helicopter and airplane rides,” Harvick said. “Everything's been pretty smooth. I haven't had time to think about getting tired.”

        Harvick, 25, did the traditional winner's “doughnut” spin in front of the main grandstand, and the billowing clouds of white smoke engulfed the roaring crowd.

        “I couldn't let 70,000 new race fans down,” a grinning Harvick said. “That's something we've done every time we've won, and I think the people enjoyed it, too.”

        The Bakersfield, Calif., native won despite starting 11th in the 43-man field. With his Earnhardt connections, it became apparent early he was a crowd favorite. When Harvick took the lead for good on lap 69, the crowd stood and cheered his No. 2 AC Delco car, the same ride once piloted to Busch championships by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

        Biffle, Tony Raines and Elton Sawyer followed Harvick across the finish line.

Jay Sauter and Jeff Green lead the field past the sold-out grandstands on the first lap.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Just as in Winston Cup, it was the big-money teams at the front Saturday. Harvick drives for Richard Chil dress, who was car owner for six of Earnhardt Sr.'s seven Winston Cup titles.

        Biffle, the runner-up, drives for Roush Racing, whose stable includes Winston stars Jeff Burton and Mark Martin. Biffle started 37th Saturday after a bad qualifying run, but quickly moved through the field.

        “We could run with him (Harvick),” Biffle said. “I think with one more pit stop, with one more adjustment, we might have caught him. We came up a little short, but it was a great run to finish second.”

        Kenny Wallace, Harvick's Winston Cup colleague who also was attempting the weekend double, was in Saturday's Busch race, but failed to qualify for today's Winston race.

        Wallace was no factor Saturday, starting 39th of 43 cars. He left after 101 laps (halfway point) with oil pump problems and finished 36th.

Clay Rogers drives into the pits after hitting the wall.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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Sparks fly from Ronnie Hornaday III's Chevrolet as he hits the wall in Turn 1,
(AP photo)
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Harvick takes victory lap.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Jeff Green, the 2000 Busch series champion from Owensboro, Ky., led early but finished 32nd thanks to an accident on Lap 89. Green and Jimmie Johnson brushed each other and spun into the Turn 4 wall, one of nine caution flags.

        Other competitors included Kerry Earnhardt, Dale's oldest son, who finished 20th, and former Winston regulars Chad Little (sixth), Dick Trickle (39th) and Geoffrey Bodine (42nd).

        The race briefly was stopped with 16 laps remaining, to clean up a multicar accident. Travis Kvapil's car went airborne and landed on its roof. After a few minutes, an unhurt Kvapil crawled out, stood and waved to the cheering crowd.

        Fans waved blue-and-yellow pom-poms that were received upon entry. Flashbulbs popped as the race began in bright sunshine just after 8 p.m., and the flashes continued as darkness set in. The final laps were run under the lights, cars gleaming, as the fans cheered every restart and most anything that moved.

        Harvick was the thing moving fastest. But he was moving a bit slower late Saturday.

        “The drivers meeting is at 11 a.m. (today) in Pocono,” he said. “I think I'll sleep in till 10:45.”

Ky. Speedway race results
70,338 fill Speedway
SULLIVAN: Carroll makes his pitch to NASCAR boss
NASCAR boss won't tip his hand
Area racing lost one of best in Bill Green
Kentucky Speedway special section

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