Hard luck comes to end for Harvick

Posted: Monday, April 04, 2005

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kevin Harvick's crew chief was sulking at home, forbidden by NASCAR from coming to the track after he was caught cheating.

His car owner was complaining to anyone who would listen that the penalties NASCAR levied against Harvick's team were too severe, and the committee that denied his appeal was unyielding.

Unable to win its case in court, Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing team scored the only victory that mattered on the race track.

Harvick broke a 55-race winless streak Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, a victory that pulled Childress and the entire team out from the embarrassing March 13 cheating scandal.

''I think both of us have been beat down pretty far at some point in our racing careers and you have to learn how to get out of a hole,'' Harvick said. ''I think that is one thing that RCR has always been really good at — they always come back stronger than they were before.

''So this was a huge statement made by our race team, and you don't have to say anything else.''

It's been a long three weeks for the RCR team since crew chief Todd Berrier got caught rigging Harvick's fuel tank to appear full when it actually wasn't during qualifying at Las Vegas.

NASCAR called it blatant cheating and suspended Berrier for four races and fined him $25,000. Harvick was also docked 25 points in the standings and Childress immediately appealed.

Calling Berrier's suspension too long and Harvick's point reduction unjust, he went before an appeals committee earlier this week.

He was denied.

So Childress and the team moved on to Bristol with a chip on their shoulder.

Childress, who used to be a regular atop the late Dale Earnhardt's pit box, decided to climb back on this week to coach Harvick in a show of solidarity for the team. It was the owner's first time on the box since the 2001 season.

Harvick said it showed how angry his boss was, and how determined Childress was to turn things around.

So in a tense, wreck-filled race, Childress coaxed his driver around Bristol's tight 0.533-mile bullring and to Harvick's first victory since he won at Indianapolis in August 2003.

''He can't come down until we lose,'' Harvick said.

But Childress said his stay was only temporary.

''I'd stay up there if I thought it would help us win every week,'' he said.

Still, the tandem gave RCR its first win at Bristol since Earnhardt bumped Terry Labonte out of the way on the final lap in 1999.

Harvick qualified 13th, but when his crew uncovered the No. 29 Chevrolet hours before the race, they found a puddle of leaking power steering fluid. The team had to fix it, and the unapproved repairs forced them to start last in the 43-car field.

''To start at the back is a lot better than to have no power steering,'' said Harvick.

And even though no other driver had come from last place on the grid to win at Bristol, Childress called a morning meeting to tell the team it could do it.

''I told all the guys, 'It's kind of a negative and we don't have our crew chief here, but we have to turn it into a positive,''' Childress said. ''And that's what Kevin did.''

He took the lead with 66 laps to go, pulled away from the pack and easily beat pole-sitter Elliott Sadler to the finish line, with seven lapped cars separating the first- and second-place cars.

''Harvick had a great race car, he was able to pass cars, maneuver his around,'' Sadler said. ''He was tough there at the end. I didn't have anything for him.''

Tony Stewart finished third in a Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth in a Chevrolet and Dale Jarrett finished fifth in a Ford. Jimmie Johnson was sixth, followed by Travis Kvapil, Kyle Petty, Greg Biffle and Scott Riggs.

The race was stopped for almost 14 minutes with 167 laps to go when Bobby Hamilton Jr. slammed into the back of Ken Schrader, starting a 14-car pileup. The crash collected many of the favorites, including Kurt Busch, who was looking for his fourth straight Bristol victory

''I just screwed up and I'm going to tuck my tail between my legs and head back to Nashville,'' Hamilton said.

Nine-time Bristol winner Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon, a five-time winner, both had slight damage to their cars but were able to continue.

Because the accident collected so many contenders, the race restarted with just 12 cars on the lead lap.

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