Harvick Holds On For Win

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JOLIET, Ill. – The Cubs, Bulls and Bears may rule in Chicago, but Chicagoland Speedway has a different king at the moment, and his name is Kevin Harvick.

Before a sold-out crowd of 75,000, Harvick stayed out of trouble and pulled away restart after restart to win Sunday’s inaugural Winston Cup Series race at the 1.5-mile oval.

“These guys did a heck of a job in the pits, Harvick said. "Kevin Hamlin had great pit strategy, but we owe this to teammates Todd Berrier and Jeff Green because those guys came here and tested both days. The motor shop did a heck of a job. This means a lot. When you’re stuck on your first win and everyone wonders if you’re a flash in the pan… this is big.”

Following Harvick – who earned his second win of the season - under the checkers and rounding out the Top 10 were Robert Pressley, Ricky Rudd, Dale Jarrett, Jimmy Spencer, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Sterling Marlin and Bill Elliott.

"It was just a great day," said Pressley, who posted the best finish of his career. "I mean, you couldn't ask for anything better except a win."

Jeff Gordon, who lost a cylinder late in the race, lost more than that Sunday. Gordon entered the race 48 points ahead of Jarrett in the standings, but ended up finishing 17th and is now tied with Jarrett for the points lead.

“We’ve just had little bit of trouble the past few weeks,” said Gordon, who finished 37th last week at Daytona. “We can outrun them on the track, but we can’t seem to beat them to the checkered flag lately. We’re really looking forward to New Hampshire next week to make up some of what we’ve lost.”

Gordon’s troubles also helped Rudd, who pulled within 18 points of the lead.

“I saw Jeff slow there late in the race and knew we just had to come out of here with the best finish we could,” Rudd said. “At Daytona, I think I thought about the points too much, so today I just thought positions and getting as many as I could.”

Unlike in the Busch race the day before – which saw three drivers spin in the first 10 laps and nine total cautions - the Cup drivers took it fairly easy in the first half of the race. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t a bunch of wall-bangers throughout the rest of the day.

The two hardest hits of the day came on Lap 22 and Lap 186. On Lap 22, Mike Skinner’s Chevy cut a tire and he hit the outside wall hard with the right front of his car. He was taken to a nearby medical center for observation with an ankle injury. On Lap 186, Buckshot Jones got loose, hit the wall and then was also taken to the medical center (knee injury).

Todd Bodine, the pole winner, looked strong at the start, but before the first 10 laps were completed, he was passed by Rudd (who started third) and Harvick.

Harvick – the Busch Series points leader – took advantage of his track time on Saturday and seemed to have the car to beat for much of the day.

Through cautions for accidents or debris, Harvick was able to stay in front or near the front. His stiffest competition through the first three-quarters of the event were Jarrett, Spencer, and Jerry Nadeau.

The biggest jump made in the first 100 laps was by Gordon, who started a disappointing 28th, but was in the Top 10 by Lap 85, and in the Top 5 by Lap 100.

Gordon had much better luck early than defending champion Bobby Labonte, who had his engine let go and was out of the race after 168 laps.

“Our Pontiac was running pretty decent there for a little while before we pitted and put tires on it,” Labonte said. “Then something let go in the top end of the motor. It had a little bit of a miss in it at that point and time, but I didn’t think much about it.”

It was also a tough day for Steve Park, who scraped the outside wall and was done for the day on Lap 136.

“The engine let go and we just got up into the wall,” said Park. “We’ve had a string of back luck here.”

The race took a turn for the worse for Nadeau – perhaps the biggest challenger to Harvick for most of the race - just as Jones got loose and smacked the wall on Lap 186.

Smoke started to stream out of the bottom of Nadeau’s No. 25 – broken oil line - and soon he was in the pits with his hood up and losing laps.

Nadeau was able to return to the track, but was laps down and never in contention again for the win. He finished 20th.

After the field went back to green on Lap 194 – following the Jones accident – Harvick appeared to be running away from the field, building a lead of nearly two seconds with 50 laps remaining, but Gordon was running the top lap times and put himself in second place with 44 laps to go.

Gordon got some help in catching Harvick – as did everyone else - with 38 lap remaining, when NASCAR through a caution for debris on the track.

The caution brought all of the leaders to the pits, but four cars from back in the pack stayed out for track position (Martin, Kenseth, Busch and Pressley).

"It was pretty good strategy," Martin said. "But the No. 29 (Harvick) was just so fast."

Spencer beat Harvick out of the pits and took the restart green in fifth. Gordon took the restart – with 35 laps to go – eighth.

It didn’t take long for Harvick to show off the power of his No. 29 Richard Childress-owned Chevy, as he caught and passed the leader (Martin) in just 10 laps.

Once again though – with 19 cars on the lead lap – the caution flew with 23 laps remaining when Jeff Green’s No. 30 blew an engine, and Bodine spun behind him.

"We had a good car, but it went bad," said Bodine, who wound up finishing 33rd. "Our car got worse and worse and worse. I spun out twice and had no warning it was going to do that."

The restart came with 19 laps remaining, and Harvick used the block of some lapped cars to quickly pull away by more than a second in the first two laps. With Harvick looking so strong and on his way to an easy victory, the biggest battles on the track were for second through 10th.

Then with 11 laps remaining, the fun started again. First, Gordon – battling for second place – had the cylinder problem and his No. 24 quickly started losing positions.

“Looks like we lost a cylinder,” Gordon’s crew chief Robbie Loomis said. “The engine guys have done great all season… this just happens sometimes.”

On the same lap, Tony Stewart – battling for eighth – started to drift high and had to let off the gas. Marlin, who was directly behind Stewart, couldn’t avoid the No. 20 and sent him spinning into the wall.

The final restart of the race came with five laps remaining, and Harvick did what he’d done all day… he pulled away.

The Winston Cup Series returns to action next weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Stuck in Park: Steve Park’s downward spiral continued in Chicago. Park’s Pennzoil Monte Carlo blew an engine on Lap 136 and the DEI driver was credited with a dismal 41st-place finish. Park has finished no higher than 26th in the past four races and has dropped from seventh to outside the Top 10 in the points standings.

White Line Fever: There was no “out of bounds” rule in effect at Chicagoland Speedway. Drivers were allowed to go below the white line on the inside of the track to pass, unlike last week at Daytona when it was illegal to drive under the yellow stripe. Several drivers took advantage and used the apron to improve their positions.

DJ Moves Up: Dale Jarrett's top-five finish coupled with Jeff Gordon's bad day brought the 1999 Winston Cup champion squarely back in the title hunt.

"We had a good car all day, the guys did a great job," Jarrett said. "It was a good points day for us. Ricky (Rudd) had a good day, so Robert Yates Racing is right up there. That's what we're after."

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