Harvick leads racing team to Food City win

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2005

The Associated Press

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Down but not out, Kevin Harvick pulled his team out from an embarrassing cheating scandal by taking Richard Childress Racing back to Victory Lane.

Harvick scored his first victory since 2003 on Sunday, winning the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway despite a stack of obstacles against him.

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His crew chief, Todd Berrier, was stuck at home serving a four-race suspension for cheating last month in Las Vegas. His car owner, Childress, spent most of the weekend complaining about the penalties against his team and driver.

And when the 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.

But with Childress back on the pit box for the first time since 2001, filling in for Berrier and calmly coaching Harvick, the brash young driver stayed calm during a tense, wreck-filled race.

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: Seven lapped cars separated the first- and second-place cars.

It was Harvick's first victory since he won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August 2003, and it was RCR's first win at Bristol since the late Dale Earnhardt brashly bumped Terry Labonte out of the way here on the final lap in 1999.

Harvick didn't need such drastic measures to snap his 55-race winless streak.

He won this race with patience and a fierce determination that's been brewing since Berrier was caught illegally rigging Harvick's fuel tank to appear full when it actually wasn't during qualifying in Las Vegas.

NASCAR cracked down on the blatant cheating, fining Berrier $25,000 along with the suspension, and docking Harvick 25 points in the standings.

Childress was livid, calling the penalties way too severe and objecting to Harvick being punished for something with which he had nothing to do. He appealed, but a committee ruled against him earlier this week.

So they headed on to Bristol with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

They did it with the win.

''It's big, Todd put so much hard work into this thing and to be home watching this on TV,'' Harvick said. ''It's pretty awesome. We fought a lot of adversity.''

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 and was 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 victory here.

''I'm sure I'm a pretty good S.O.B right now with everybody,'' Hamilton said. ''I just screwed up and I'm going to tuck my tail between my legs and head back to Nashville.''

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.

But Wallace already was struggling: The right front tire on his Dodge went flat after a long green flag run and he lost two laps while pitting to have it changed.

Then, after the wreck, he pulled into the pits under the red flag and was penalized. Wallace fell back to 18th place after the accident. Despite leading a race-high 157 laps and looking like the driver to beat for most of the afternoon, he ended up finishing 13th, two laps down.

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

Busch was one of them, but his day ended when Johnson and Jeff Burton made contact and Burton's car banged off the inside wall. As it ricocheted back onto the track, it moved directly into Busch's path and Busch couldn't avoid hitting him.

Busch sounded woozy when he slowly radioed his crew to tell them he was OK, and his steps seemed deliberate as he walked off the track.

''It was a hard hit, it took the wind out of me,'' Busch said. ''I feel horrible, I've never hit that hard before.''

Burton, meanwhile, waited for Johnson to come back around the track under caution and angrily pointed at him as he passed.

''Jimmie is a great driver and I know he didn't do it on purpose,'' Burton said. ''He's got to be better than that and I won't put up with it. I know he didn't do it on purpose, but we're responsible for driving these race cars and when something happens behind the wheel, it's his fault.''