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For Richard Childress things are finally looking up....

For Richard Childress things are finally looking up....

Kevin Harvick, Richmond. Now what can he do at Talladega? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Timing, sometimes, is everything, and that's the way it appears for Richard Childress.
   His four-car operation -- considering the Kurt Busch-Barney Visser team as part -- hasn't had a great go of it lately.
   So  Kevin Harvick's somewhat surprising victory at Richmond Saturday night certainly gives Childress and his guys a big boost.
   And remember Childress typically has strong cars at Talladega. Remember that one-two finish Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton? And Harvick's still amazing to watch charge to victory at Daytona back when.
    Paul Menard, one of the sport's steadiest drivers, who rarely makes mistakes, has been the Childress team leader so far this season.
    Now Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin have fired back into the mix.
    Anyone doubting how strong a close Harvick can be, when he has the horse, need only check out the closing laps at Richmond.
  The backdrop for Harvick, Childress and Martin this year is obvious: Harvick is leaving at the end of the season to join the Tony Stewart team. That leaves a void at Childress'. Plus sponsorship issues hang over everything.
   So Childress men finishing first, fifth, ninth and 13th was a good night.

  "I know everybody makes a big deal out of what you're going to do next year," Harvick concedes.  "But, man, next year is so far away right now, that you're weektoweek: What are we working on this week?  What track are we going to?  What do we do to make it better? 
    "You try to do that week after week.  You lose track of time.  You lose track of everything that's going on because you're so buried in what we do on a weektoweek basis."
   Finally something good at the finish line.
   "We've been there all year long, we've had fast cars, but seemed like something didn't go our way," Harvick said.  "But tonight it did."

   Childress, who has been in a remarkable good mood the past two weeks for some reason, called Harvick's winning charge "Vintage Kevin Harvick. 
    "When they dropped that green, he found the hole, drove it through there, made it happen. "

   On the other side of the picture, in that final sprint, was teammate Jeff Burton, one of three who didn't pit for fresh tires when the yellow came out with five laps to go. That call put Burton in the lead for the green-white-checkered overtime  restart.
     "I think everyone, even Kevin's team, was probably pulling for Burton," Childress said,  with a nod toward Burton's long winless streak.
   Until the late  yellow, the race was Juan Pablo Montoya's. He too has gone quite a while since winning. But he had the strongest car down the stretch. However Harvick's pit crew got him back out on the track just ahead of Montoya, and that put Harvick on the inside for the restart -- key, because the outside lane didn't work well all night.
   Martin watched Harvick closing on Montoya just before the last caution: "We were able to get to him, but the laps were kind of leveling out. 
    "This race was a weird deal for Richmond -- Seemed like the cars were getting an aero-push.  Within five car lengths of anybody, seems like the advantage you had went away or diminished as soon as you got close to them.
    "The laps were winding down so fast, and Montoya was going to have to make a mistake for us to get by him."

   But then the yellow, and the restart: "Three cars up front didn't pit, so you had three cars that were going to be pretty much in the way, compared to the guys on fresh tires," Harvick said.  "But you didn't know if it was going to be one greenwhitecheckered, two greenwhitecheckereds. 
    "You had to be as aggressive as you thought you could be without taking yourself out of the race."

    The night was also another test for NASCAR's new 2013s, whose performance has been a sensitive issue for Daytona execs -- witness NASCAR's $25,000 fine on Denny Hamlin.
    The new cars certainly are fast, much faster than anything on the stock car tour in years.
    That may be a mixed blessing, though, as Richmond's aero-push issues would show.
   However Harvick says the new car are comfortable to drive.
   "They're definitely not edgy like the cars used to be," Harvick says. "You have enough downforce on the car where you can manipulate the car with the brake or the throttle.
     "There are still a lot of unknowns, though. That's what makes it fun.
    "When you have enough downforce on the car, you can be ultraaggressive with it and do things like we did on the restart and not worry about the car spinning out and wrecking somebody when you're under another car.
   "You can be aggressive with these cars.  Last year the spoiler was shortened, and it was hard to be aggressive with those cars because they were so edgy; you don't have a lots of confidence in racing sidebyside. 
    "I feel like I can drive my car in 10 miles deep, do what I have to do on the inside of other car, not worry about spinning out and wrecking.
   "There are still a few things here and there -- whether it be the superspeedways...and everybody wants to see how the racing is at Talladega compared to how it was at Daytona (where it was single-file, no passing for the full three hours).
    "There are still some unanswered questions.  But I think, all in all, it's been a huge success so far."
   No $25,000 NASCAR fine coming here.


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