Not a great night for Tony Stewart (14) and Jimmie Johnson (48). And moments later Kyle Busch plowed into the mess, ending his bid. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Vintage Kevin Harvick.
That's how crew chief Gil Martin describes those frantic, winning moves by his driver on the green-white-checkered finish to Saturday night's overtime Richmond 400....a furious closing finish that Kurt Busch described as a 'free for all.'
Tempers flared, as expected.
Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne had their moments.
Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch had their moments too.
And so did Ryan Newman and Kahne....and others throughout the field.
The difference in winning and losing: the inside line versus the outside line on the restarts.
The inside line was a decided advantage; the outside line, a decided disadvantage.
Harvick had the inside line, the luck of the battling off pit road, for the final restart; Juan Pablo Montoya, who had the car to beat down the stretch, had the outside line.
"That was a heck of a first lap of the restart," Harvick said. "I thought that the outside line might have the advantage because it had a couple of guys with new tires in the second row, and lined up on the outside.
"But these cars drive a lot off the left rear... and they didn't get that great a restart but my car launched," Harvick said. "And I was able to drive it in the first corner... and hope for the best. I figured four, eight, 12...how ever-many tires that were on the outside of me would be better than none. It all worked out."
A beautiful night in Richmond, particularly for Kevin Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin (Photo: Getty Image for NASCAR)
Pitting for tires with only five laps left seemed odd. "But when the tires fall off almost two seconds, you've got to come in and get tires," Harvick said.
"I knew we had a chance because we were the second car on four tires. But you never know what two tires is going to do on a high tire-wear track like this.
"It's been a tough start to the season. Our cars have been really fast. A lot of people have thought we might lay down this year, but there ain't no lame in that game."
Martin said "I was surprised how tight we were starting the race. We probably made more adjustments tonight on the car than we've made in any race in a couple years.
"But it was right when it needed to be.
"And for those of you that have been around here for a long time, that restart by him, that was vintage Kevin Harvick. That was a really, really good restart right there. That was exciting to watch."
Mark Martin got the worst of it in a tussle with Kasey Kahne (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Montoya was clearly disappointed. The Formula 1 star hasn't been as impressive as expected in his six years on the stock car tour. His last win was in 2010.
"The pit crew redeemed themselves," Montoya said. "They did a great job all day, no mistakes. That is what we needed.
"But on restarts, it is the luck of the draw. We restarted on the outside, and we were screwed.
"When Harvick went by, I tried to get to the bottom, but Joey Logano was there. Then I said we've just got to get a finish; we had six really bad weeks."
Matt Kenseth again dominated, as he has many times this season. He led 140 laps, more than anyone. But late in the race he wound up shuffled to fifth or sixth.
"Then we got it pretty good again....but that last restart -- just being on the outside, Kurt Busch drove up through there and knocked my whole side off and put me in the marbles.
"It's just two laps, everybody is going to go for it and go for every hole they've got. That's the best I could do.
"If I could have drawn the inside line instead of the outside line, maybe I could have run second. Just starting on the top you knew they were going to be three and four-wide, and it was just tough."
Kenseth finished seventh.
Gil Martin, Kevin Harvick's crew chief (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
The win by Harvick was clearly a boost for Martin, his crew chief.
"The frustration is there," Martin said of the season so far. "When you have a fast car......
"We've come down to the end of the races where it seems like we had cars that could run in the top-5, easily in the top-10. Some of the decisions I've made at the end of the race....
"This has been one of the most difficult years for making decisions. If a final caution comes out in the last 10 or 15 laps, you're within sixth to 12th place, it's no man's land, because there are so many cars on the lead lap now. There's 30 cars on the lead lap.
"If you pit, and a lot don't pit, you lose track position.
"Then there's the tire advantage. We've been on the wrong end of that. We have to be more aggressive on that. Tonight we were. It paid off for us."
No, this isn't Danica Patrick. But she may have felt like this after finishing 29th, four laps down, in her Cup debut at Richmond (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)