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Harvick's luck comes to an end

After controversial win at Daytona, driver seems ready to take lead Sunday before flat tire ends bid.

February 26, 2007|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Kevin Harvick had Matt Kenseth in his sights.

And he had momentum on his side.

What he didn't have was the same fortune that propelled him to the Daytona 500 victory a week ago.

The Bakersfield driver had shown in the last 20 laps of the Auto Club 500 that he was faster than Kenseth, who seemed to have the car to beat for most of the race's 250 laps at California Speedway.

But Harvick's fortunes unraveled in a twist that left him in 17th place, the last car on the lead lap.

After Harvick had passed teammate Jeff Burton on Lap 232 to move into second place, he was 1.15 seconds behind Kenseth. Over the next seven laps, Harvick cut the deficit to .489.

Then there was a caution on Lap 244, which led to a race-stopping red flag on Lap 246 to clear the wreckage from David Reutimann's crash. The delay ran 15 minutes 18 seconds but, considering the catch-up ability he'd shown, it seemed the race was Harvick's to win.

When racing resumed for a four-lap sprint, however, Harvick's left front tire went flat. As the rest of the field approached the green flag, Harvick pulled into the pits -- and Kenseth pulled away from the pack.

"We were going to beat him," Harvick said. "But, shoulda, woulda, coulda.... I don't know what I hit. I didn't notice we hit anything, but it is just one of those deals."

Just one of those deals kept Harvick from a bit of history.

He was trying to become the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1997 to win the first two races of the season. He had won in dramatic fashion last week, coming from sixth place on the last lap to beat Mark Martin to the finish line and win NASCAR's marquee race by .002 of a second.

That victory was controversial because the field crashed behind Harvick and Martin, and NASCAR officials didn't throw a yellow flag until they reached the finish line.

Controversy hovered around Harvick all week. Sunoco, the official gasoline of NASCAR, complained about Harvick's sponsor, Shell/Pennzoil, saying that the Shell logo was too dominant on his Chevrolet and driver suit, which violated Sunoco's exclusivity.

Then, on Friday, Ron Hornaday Jr., driving a truck owned by Harvick, spun out Martin, who was leading on a restart with five laps remaining. It almost assuredly cost Martin, a popular veteran, a victory in the Craftsman Truck series.

Maybe the karma was catching up with Harvick, who also had a flat in the Busch race Saturday.

"It has been one of those weeks," said Harvick, who has only two top-10 finishes, with a best of sixth, in nine races here.

"This is what we consider one of our worst two race tracks.... When we can come here and contend for a win, we are doing pretty good. I feel pretty good about it."

Gordon, who finished second, said that Harvick certainly had a top-five car, but wasn't sure that the man who replaced Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing could catch Kenseth.

Kenseth wasn't so sure either.

"He certainly was ... a little quicker every lap," Kenseth said.

"Getting there is one thing; passing's another. But he certainly was faster at the time.... I don't known if we could've held him off or not. I'm glad we didn't have to find out."

martin.henderson@latimes.com

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