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Harvick Is the Brick Slayer

NASCAR driver wins the 10th Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, becoming first to win the race from the pole position.

August 04, 2003|Shav Glick | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — The old Intimidator would have been proud of the way his successor ran Sunday. So would a lot of old-time stock car folks who haven't looked favorably on a bunch of open-wheel kids coming in and dominating NASCAR Winston Cup racing the last few years.

Kevin Harvick, the driver picked by Richard Childress to drive Dale Earnhardt's Chevrolet after the death of Earnhardt at Daytona two years ago, powered away in the final laps to win the 10th Brickyard 400 before more than 300,000 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Anything we can do that Dale Earnhardt did is an accomplishment," said Harvick after taking the checkered flag. Earnhardt won the second 400 in 1995 in a Childress car. "He's what made this whole organization what it is today. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Even though his car number is 29, Harvick has a big "3" on its side in memory of the seven-time Winston Cup champion.

Harvick is only 27 and comes from Bakersfield, not exactly bootleg country such as the sand hills of the Piedmont, but Harvick is as close to the likes of Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty than anyone in racing today.

He grew up with the Mears boys, Clint and Casey, and idolized Rick Mears, the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner from Bakersfield.

"Naturally, I wanted to be an open-wheel racer like Rick, but my father said no," Harvick said. "So we focused on stock cars and that was the direction I headed in. That's all I've done since I won the late model championship at Mesa Marin in 1993. He didn't want me driving a midget or a Formula Ford. He felt that stock cars were the way to go.

"Right now I'd have to say it was a good decision on his part."

Harvick has a picture of Rick Mears hanging on his wall at home that says, "Good luck, hope to see you here someday."

"Damn if we aren't here in victory lane at the Brickyard," said the exuberant winner. "This is so awesome."

In Sunday's race, he became the first driver to win the 400 from the pole. He wasn't a wire-to-wire winner by any means but over the final stretch no one could handle him. Harvick led the first 17 laps from the pole before giving way to last year's winner, Bill Elliott.

In the meantime, Tony Stewart was impressively moving from 15th to catch the leaders one by one. He passed Kurt Busch for fourth on Lap 16, Ryan Newman for third on Lap 21, Harvick for second on Lap 22 and Elliott for the lead on Lap 26.

Stewart, the reigning Winston Cup champion in a bit of a slump this year, looked as if he had the race in control when he led 60 of the next 80 laps. What appeared to be a Stewart win turned sour when he pitted during green flag racing only to have a yellow caution flag a few laps later that allowed his main rivals the luxury of pitting while cars were circling the track at 65 mph instead of 150.

He finished a disappointing 12th.

From Lap 106, the last lap Stewart led, the win was up for grabs. First Robby Gordon looked as if he was going to make up for the heartbreak of running out of fuel while leading the Indianapolis 500 a few years ago; then rookie Jamie McMurray took his Dodge to the front and led for 22 laps; and Matt Kenseth, the Winston Cup points leader, led for nine laps.

The pivotal point came after a caution flag brought out by a six-car pileup on the back straight when cars were running four-abreast and Terry Labonte got punted across the track by Busch. When the green flag reappeared, there were 10 laps left with Harvick, Robby Gordon, McMurray, Kenseth and Jeff Gordon lined up bumper to bumper.

Harvick got the jump when starter Jimmy Howell dropped the green. Robby Gordon, his Childress teammate and the man who snookered Harvick at Sonoma last month by passing him during a caution period, found he couldn't catch Harvick, so he did his best to hold up the following pack.

"I know I was mad at him after Sonoma, but he did all he could to hold those guys back and give us a cushion," Harvick said. "This win is as much his as it is ours and is as important to the company and all the teams."

McMurray was not so charitable.

"He's a menace to society, I think," he said of Robby. "He just races so hard. Everybody was racing hard at the end. I'm usually really good on restarts but I kept getting hung on the outside and it's just really slick. I think the 31 [Gordon] picked me up and the 29 [Harvick] got into me a little bit. It's no one's fault, it's just the way that it is."

Kenseth finished second, increasing his points lead to 286 over Dale Earnhardt Jr., 3,152 to 2,866. Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th.

"I don't think we had the car to win today," Kenseth said. "There's always frustration in not winning, but I feel like we did everything we could today. We got the most that we could get out of the car.

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