Harvicks Saturday Night Special

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MADISON, Ill. – Gateway International Raceway will always be special to Kevin Harvick, and he made it even more so on Saturday night.

Harvick, who won his first Busch Series race at Gateway a year ago, dominated most of the event - but had to hold off a hard-charging Jason Keller near the end - to win the CarQuest 250.

“That was just really fun,” said Harvick, who increased his series points lead to 158 over Greg Biffle. “When you get to fight for a win, that’s something special.”

The win was the fourth in a row at Gateway for the AC/Delco Chevy, and the third of the season for Harvick. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag at Gateway in 1998 and 1999 in the AC/Delco machine, and Harvick also took the car to victory lane last year.

“Jason gave me a few bumps there at the end, and I gave him a few,” Harvick said. “When you can run away with wins, that’s fun. But being able to battle at the end, that’s really fun.”

Following Harvick across the line, and rounding out the Top 10, were Keller, Kevin Grubb, Biffle, Jeff Green, Kenny Wallace, David Green, Elton Sawyer, Randy LaJoie and Scott Wimmer.

“That was pretty exciting,” said Keller, who is third in points just 178 behind Harvick. “But we had a chance to win this thing, so this is tough, too.”

Harvick led well more than half of the 200 laps on the 1.25-mile oval, but a bad pit stop under caution with fewer than 40 laps remaining made things rather interesting for the No. 2 team.

Harvick and Grubb – who had run in the Top 5 nearly all night – took on four tires, while several other drivers (including Keller) took two tires. With a little trouble on the left front in the pits, Harvick ended up taking the restart in seventh, with 34 laps remaining. Grubb came out of the pits eighth.

By Lap 180, 20 laps to go, Harvick had moved passed all but one of the cars in front of him, and set his sights on the leader, Green.

Showing the power and ability to keep his car low in the turns that he’d had all night, Harvick caught Green on Lap 185 and blew by the defending Busch Series champion with 14 laps remaining.

That’s when the fun with Keller began, as the driver of the No. 57 Ford moved by Green and then by Harvick. The two drivers swapped the lead four times in the final 10 laps, with Harvick taking the lead for good with three remaining.

In the first three-quarters of the event, Harvick was challenged only by pole winner Biffle. That challenge went away on Lap 140, though, when Biffle – running in second – slid up the race track and hit the lapped car of Shane Hall on the straightaway. The hit flattened Hall’s left-front tire, and he had to go to the pits.

Just a few laps later, Hall came out of the pits behind Biffle and ran into the back of the No. 60 heading into Turn 2. Biffle slid up near the wall, but kept his Ford going.

With the fans on their feet expecting another “payback” once Biffle caught Hall again 15 laps later, Biffle took the high road and slipped by the No. 63 without incident.

“He was a lap down and just wouldn’t give us a break,” said Biffle, who won an NCTS event at Gateway in 1999. “We got together and that ruined our aero package. It was a heckuva job by our guys, though, to get us back in shape enough to finish fourth.”

The night, though, belonged to Harvick.

As special as Saturday’s victory is, Harvick will never forget his initial win in the series last year at Gateway, where he out-dueled Jeff Purvis to the checkered flag, the first of his three wins last year.

This year, Harvick has three Busch Series victories, as well as a pair of unexpected Winston Cup victories. Those wins were unexpected because he wasn’t supposed to race at the Winston Cup level until next year. The death of Dale Earnhardt in February accelerated Harvick’s career plans.

“It’s pretty special coming back to where we won our first race,” said Harvick. “We got our first win last year at Gateway, but it’s strange that it’s already been a year since that happened. We could have never imagined that so much would happen so quick since then.”

Not only has Harvick’s career skyrocketed since then, his personal life has undergone some dramatic changes. He was married to his then fiancée Delana back in March in Las Vegas.

Harvick said Gateway, which is banked 11 degrees in Turns 1 and 2 and nine degrees in Turns 3 and 4, is tailor-made for his driving style.

“I really enjoy racing tracks with unique shapes, and Gateway is unique,” he said. “I enjoy it. It’s a challenge to get the car to handle, but the great thing about it is you can race on it.

“You can go side-by-side and feel comfortable racing next to someone. You try to keep the car on the bottom in (Turns) one and two, but it’s not the end of the world if you’re on the top. You set up the car for (Turns) one and two, and you give up a little in three and four.”

After a quick visit to victory lane Saturday, Harvick took off for Loudon, N.H., where he’ll compete in Sunday's Winston Cup event at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Race Center

Dover 200

@ Dover Int'l Speedway
Saturday, September 27, 2014 3:00 PM
Radio Start:
MRN, 3 p.m. (ET)
TV Start:
ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. (ET)

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