Published on October 13th, 2014 | by Michael J Smith0
Harvick Punches Ticket To Next Round
The Closer finally closed the deal, and the door swung almost shut on Dale Earnhardt Jr., six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski.
With the dominant car in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick led 162 laps and survived a wild two-lap dash to the finish after the final caution en route to his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season and a free pass into the Eliminator Round of the Chase.
In a race that ended with battered cars, bruised egos, boiling tempers and physical confrontations in the garage, Harvick pulled away after a restart on Lap 333 of 334 and beat Jeff Gordon to the finish line by .572 seconds. Jamie McMurray ran third, followed by Joey Logano and polesitter Kyle Busch.
“I won’t be anorexic and throwing up all week,” Harvick quipped, knowing he won’t need to avoid the inevitable major wrecks in the Oct. 19 race at Talladega Superspeedway to advance to the next round of the Chase. “This was the night that we needed to win. I don’t want to go to Talladega next week.”
Nicknamed “The Closer,” Harvick had failed to win the last five races in which he had led the most laps, but his victory on Saturday night—his third at Charlotte and the 26th of his career—was an emphatic rebuke to the ill fortune that had kept him out of Victory Lane since April.
For Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt, it was a night of continuing disappointment—and in Keselowski’s case, a night of battling that continued onto pit road and into the garage after the race.
Keselowski and Johnson got shuffled back to their finishing positions of 16th and 17th, respectively, on the restart with two laps left, after a caution for Brian Vickers’ blown engine on Lap 327.
After the race, Keselowski and ninth-place finisher Denny Hamlin traded insults on pit road, as NASCAR officials and their crews kept them apart in the wake of a late race incident between their two cars.
Keselowski clipped Hamlin’s rear bumper on the cool-down lap, then hit Kenseth’s Toyota with his Ford on pit road after the race. After sustaining collateral damage on pit road during the melee, Tony Stewart backed into Keselowski’s Ford, crumpling the nose of the car.
Keselowski insisted it was Kenseth’s car and not his No. 2 Ford that bumped Stewart’s Chevy.
“I rubbed into the No. 20 (Kenseth), and I think he gassed up and ran into Tony, and I don’t think Tony knew what was going on,” Keselowski said. “He’s upset, and he has every right to be. His car was tore up. There was a whole lot of other stuff going on. I’m sure when he sees the whole situation, he’ll understand.”
Kenseth, whose No. 20 Toyota had been damaged by contact from Keselowski’s car on a restart with 63 laps left, jumped Keselowski as he was walking between haulers in the garage, and the drivers scuffled before being separated.
“I had my HANS (head and neck restraint) off and my seat belts off and everything,” Kenseth said of the hit from Keselowski on pit road. “He clobbered me at 50 (mph). And the access we have around here… the race is over, trying to come back to pit road…
“If you want to talk about it as a man, do that, but to try and wreck someone on the race track, come down pit road with other cars and people standing around with seat belts off and drive in the side of me—it’s inexcusable. There is no excuse for that. He’s a champion. He’s supposed to know better than that.”
Hamlin also had some harsh words for the 2012 champion.
“There’s a corner there, so you have to back off, and he just plowed into us,” Hamlin said. “He’s just out of control. He’s desperate, obviously, and it’s either four or five of us are wrong or he’s wrong, because he’s pissed off everyone. Just disappointing — but we’re trying to get in this deal. We’re sitting in a decent spot, but we’ve lost six spots or so with the last restart when he ran into us and knocked us up the track.
“That was unfortunate. Matt (Kenseth) was nearly out of his car and he just plowed into Matt and then ran into Tony (Stewart) and then went in through the garage and cleared out transmissions and did burnouts in the garage.”
Both Johnson and Keselowski head to Talladega on Oct. 19 in all probability needing a victory to advance to avoid elimination from the Chase. The same goes for Earnhardt, whose shifter broke early in the race and relegated the driver of the No. 88 to a 20th-place finish, one lap down.
Rookie Kyle Larson ran sixth, followed by Chase drivers Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.
With the cut from 12 to eight Chase drivers looming at Talladega, Kenseth, Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt are the four drivers currently in positions 9 through 12 in the standings.
Note: Keselowski and Jesse Sanders, a member of the Kenseth’s crew were called to the NASCAR transporter after the race. Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, also went to the hauler of his own volition in support of his crewman.
Afterwards Keselowski posted the following on his Twitter account:
“Rough night. Understand a lot of folks may not understand everything that happened and that’s ok. I’m not perfect but also not the only one.”