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Harvick Is Not Bad at All in IROC Win

Motor racing: Tempestuous Winston Cup driver behaves himself, holds off Labonte for his first victory in series.

April 28, 2002|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kevin Harvick walked into the media room Saturday night and declared, "I've been worse."

Harvick, who grew up in Bakersfield and is NASCAR's reigning bad boy, definitely has been. But he was Mr. Clean on Saturday, racing aggressively but fairly, and dominating the True Value International Race of Champions.

Harvick, on probation for the rest of the season for rough driving, started fourth in the field of 12 drivers, took the lead on the first lap and led 46 of 50 laps around the two-mile California Speedway oval. He is the first IROC rookie to win since Jeff Burton won at Michigan International Speedway in 1998.

"Right at the beginning, I knew I needed to be out in front and halfway in control of [my] own destiny," said Harvick, who whipped past the front row of Dale Jarrett and Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves, and No. 3 starter Buddy Lazier.

Harvick staved off challenges from Winston Cup regulars Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart. Labonte led laps 9 and 10, and Stewart laps 28 and 29.

"I think he's got a little something to prove right now," Jarrett said of Harvick, who denied he has anything to prove.

"I just go out there and try to win the race," Harvick said. "It's really neat to race against these guys from the other divisions."

Harvick certainly earned it on the final lap. Labonte took the unofficial lead along the back straight on the last lap, but he didn't have enough to put away Harvick, who was inside and closed the door on Labonte between turns 3 and 4.

"I thought I'd save the right front [tire]," Labonte said. "Kevin, with about 10 laps to go, started to pull away, so I started using my right front [driving harder]. I was going to wait until the last minute, but I couldn't make it. Not in Turn 3. I had to lift or I'd have taken out the wall in Turn 4."

Labonte finished second, Jarrett third, Sterling Marlin fourth and Jack Sprague, who is running the Busch series this year, fifth--a clean sweep by NASCAR drivers, with Winston Cup regulars taking the top four spots in a field that included five drivers from the open-wheel Indy Racing League.

In the first of four IROC races this season, open-wheel drivers finished second, third and fifth at Daytona.

With two races remaining, Stewart retains the lead in the series with 35 points, followed by Harvick with 32, Labonte with 30 and Sprague tied with Al Unser Jr. with 22 points.

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