Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick (29) celebrates winning the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
RICHMOND, Va. -- With fresher tires and a career knack of come-from-behind wins, Kevin Harvick took advantage of a late caution and then grabbed the lead with two laps to go and held on for a green-white-checker finish and win in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
“It’s been a tough start to the season, our cars have been really fast,” Harvick said of his 20th career Sprint Cup win. “A lot of people thought we might lay down this year (because this is his final year with Richard Childress Racing; he’ll move to Stewart Haas Racing next season), but there ain’t no laying in that game. It was a great night.”
When racing resumed after the final caution, Harvick was in seventh place. But backed with some savvy driving and getting by six drivers in front of him, Harvick won his first race of 2013 -- and his first since at Phoenix last fall -- and needed the six extra laps over the scheduled 400 laps to do so.
“It all worked out,” said Harvick, who even with the win has led just a grand total of four laps all season. “Sprint Cup racing is something where you have to take chances. The guys that stayed out had to take chances, we took chances but we’ve been beat by tires a couple times this year and I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Clint Bowyer finished second, followed by Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Burton to round out the top-five.
Sixth through 10th were Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
As for the points standings after nine races, Jimmie Johnson remained atop the Sprint Cup heap, Carl Edwards jumped four spots to second, Kasey Kahne fell from second to third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed from sixth to fourth, Clint Bowyer went from eighth to fifth, Brad Keselowski dropped from third to sixth.
Kyle Busch remained in seventh, Greg Biffle fell from fourth to eighth, Harvick climbed two spots to ninth and Paul Menard remained in 10th place after the race.
Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart got into a post-race beating and banging battle on-track after Busch pushed Stewart out of the way on the final restart, taking Stewart out of his groove and a likely top-10 finish.
“This was a solid run for our car, we were there,” Busch said. “All in all, a great night for us to be in the top-five and have restarts up front and lead some laps. You could just tell, green-white-checker, everybody’s going to put on tires, some guys are going to put on two, some guys stayed out, it was just a free-for-all.
“I don’t know what (Stewart) was upset about. I got hit from behind, I got hit every which way, so was he … everybody was free-for-all, but we still got a top-10 out of this.”
Stewart, who has struggled all season, saw those struggles continue, finishing 18th.
Restrained by several members of his team, Stewart could be seen yelling “Get over it” to Busch in the garage area after the race.
With 88 laps left in the race, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers and Landon Cassell all received penalties for commitment line violations coming onto pit road during a caution period, proving particularly costly for Busch, who was challenging for the lead at the time. The penalties dropped all three drivers behind the 28th-place car at the time.
However, when Kyle Busch’s crew chief, Dave Rogers, appealed the penalty, NASCAR agreed and rescinded the penalty, putting Busch back where he was when the caution came out, namely in sixth place.
That elation was short-lived, however, when with 73 laps left, several cars were involved in a wreck when Tony Stewart’s car spun, collecting the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, ending the latter’s hopes of winning a fifth consecutive spring race at Richmond..
Just over 10 laps later, another significant wreck occured involving Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin, bringing out the ninth caution of the race. Martin Truex Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya both stayed out on the racetrack and did not pit, giving them the lead when racing resumed with 57 laps remaining.
But less than two laps later, the older Busch brother, 2004 Cup champ Kurt, spun Truex, bringing out the 10th caution flag and taking away Truex’s best hopes for his first Sprint Cup career short track win.
Juan Pablo Montoya grabbed the lead late in the race and in pursuit of his first short track race on the Cup circuit, as well. However, Harvick had tires with 30 laps less on them than Montoya’s, and he continued to close in on Montoya’s lead.
Montoya’s chances to win took a big hit with six laps remaining when Brian Vickers, replacing the injured Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota, spun out and hit the wall, bringing out yet another caution.
Surprisingly, Montoya came in and pitted for four tires and fuel, giving up the lead and falling to sixth.
Coming into Saturday’s 300-mile event, Kenseth appeared ready to extract revenge against NASCAR for the penalties it issued Wednesday after a part in the motor of Kenseth’s Kansas race-winning car last Sunday was found illegal.
Not only did Kenseth earn the pole in Friday’s qualifying, he dominated much of the first half of Saturday’s 400-lap race around the 3/4-mile short track, leading 140 laps.
Kenseth was able to race despite being docked 50 points for the illegal part, as was crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who was fined $200,000 and suspended for six races, as well as team owner Joe Gibbs, who also lost his owner’s license for six races.
However, all of those penalties -- with the exception of Kenseth’s 50 lost standings points -- are on hold pending an upcoming appeal hearing, likely to come in two weeks. Penske Racing’s Joey Logano and defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski will have their respective appeals for using an improper rear housing unit in their race cars heard this Wednesday.
Speaking of Keselowski, he and Greg Biffle suffered separate incidents that led to damaged race cars when both experienced tire problems just past the halfway mark.
Kyle Busch, who has won the last four spring races at Richmond, shot to the lead about two-thirds of the way through Saturday night’s race. But following a restart just before the 300-lap mark, Kurt Busch shot to the lead, challenged heavily by Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
Earlier in the day, Henrico County police, who have primary jurisdiction over Richmond International Raceway, announced charges against two members of the Richard Childress Racing organization for a physical altercation in the infield after Friday’s Nationwide Series race. One of the victims of the altercation was Nationwide driver Nelson Piquet Jr., along with an unidentified companion, police said.
Henrico police said Michael Searce was charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault, while Thomas Costello was arrested on one count of misdemeanor assault. According to media reports, one of the two arrested men also suffered a shoulder injury in the altercation.
Piquet and fellow driver Brian Scott wrecked on the racetrack late in the race, an incident that spilled over to a physical confrontation on pit road between both drivers in which Piquet allegedly kicked Scott below the belt, Scott alleged.
NASCAR officials continue to investigate that incident, while also taking part in the Henrico investigation of the post-race assault in the infield, just outside the driver’s motorcoach parking lot.