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Wow! Another hot time at the old race track....and what a way for that aging Daytona asphalt to go out

  Ouch! This doesn't look pretty. But these stock car drivers haven't been playing nice this season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Might want to steer clear of Clint Bowyer at Chicago.
   And Kyle Busch too.
   And Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch.
   And Elliott Sadler.
   And a few others too.
   They're all a little miffed at what all went on here in Saturday night's overtime Daytona 400.
   And Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya and a few others might want to tighten those belts a little tighter...

   But at the other end of the emotional spectrum, after this latest wild and crazy NASCAR race, here's Kevin Harvick, looking cool and confident about life this season on the stock car trail. Winning again, and atop the Sprint Cup standings for the ninth straight week.
   Yes, Kevin 'Happy' Harvick is indeed happy, no longer the brooding, moody driver that prompted the tongue-in-check nickname.
   This may seem amazing, considering where the team was just a year ago -- but it's looking like Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin may actually be able to wear down Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus in this championship race.
   Like clockwork, week after week, Harvick and Martin keep rolling, almost maddeningly methodical.
    And Johnson, though perhaps the sport's best 'home run hitter,' keeps hitting bumps in the road. Saturday night here, while he was running seventh and looking good late, Johnson got caught up in 'the big one' with 50 miles to go, and his car was destroyed.
   Not that that was a terrible hit in the points, in the big picture, but it continues the rollercoaster ride: back-to-back wins, Sonoma and Loudon, N.H., and then a DNF.
   That's Johnson's fourth DNF of the season, in 18 starts.

  Tony Stewart isn't going to be very happy with whoever started this mess (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Still Harvick insists "until somebody beats him, he's still the guy to beat."
   With Denny Hamlin's sudden run of trouble, Harvick just may be the guy to beat Johnson this fall. Harvick has no DNFs, and he's been on the lead lap at the end of all but one of the year's races (Martinsville, brake problems).

   The turnaround in the Richard Childress camp is little short of remarkable. All three teams are on a roll, and Childress came close to a 1-2-3 finish in the 400, with Harvick,  Bowyer and Jeff Burton.
    "Richard pulled the trigger on a lot of things -- reorganizing people, getting us the funds to build new cars," Harvick says. "He stepped out on a huge limb to spend the money to start over...halfway through the year. And it's paying off now for us.
    "We've been competitive every week. 
    "After last year you don't complain about anything. You're happy with where things are. 
   "We were 27th or 28th in points after this race last year, so we're really excited about the turnaround.  It's pretty remarkable, to tell you the truth."
   Part of the credit, rivals say, goes to Childress' new race simulation computer programming.
   But then even if the car has it right, the driver has to do it right. And Harvick is doing just that.
    Childress himself said "I'm proud of Kevin.  Kevin is becoming one of these guys that wins the restrictor plate races.  He's kind of like Dale Sr. -- you knew he was going to be a factor in it. 
    "To have all three RCR cars up there leading the race, racing with each other, it was really cool to watch."

   The crowd -- Daytona officials said 115,000 -- certainly got its money's worth, and then some. Maybe track pres Robin Braig will put chunks of this old asphalt up for sale as souvenirs. If this asphalt could talk, it would have quite a tale to tell (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, says "it's just such a neat deal to be able to win the last race on that particular asphalt.  It's going to be a lot different race when we come back."
   The overtime green-white-checkered restart went surprisingly smoothly for Harvick: "You never know what's going to happen on the last lap, with people pushing and shoving from the back.  But on the last restart, once Jeff Gordon pulled out and slowed those outside two lines down, that was pretty much the end of it.
   "It didn't come down to the white flag, but usually it does, and usually it comes from a push down the backstretch."
   By then, Harvick was gone.
   Tires were an issue early on in the race, with what Goodyear described as "heat-related" problems, probably from cars running too loose and scraping the tires sideways on a green track, after rain (which delayed the start of the race until 9:15 p.m. ET).
    "The issues that everybody had at the beginning of the race was just due to the rain," Martin said. "The track was so green, and the tires were just wearing...and a lot of guys probably were over-cambered in the right-front (to make the car turn more easily in the corners).
   "Fortunately we were pretty conservative on that, and as the track came in it played into our favor."


  Crew chief Gil Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Martin, the tough, no-nonsense team boss, with a wicked sense of humor, isn't expecting a slump any time soon. He says he has a fleet of cars for Harvick to wear out: "We're in a fortunate position in the points lead.  As far as rolling the dice, we're going to try to do that as much as possible," Martin says.
    "At the same time we've got to get there smart, and make sure we're not only consistent but have some speed."
   Speed was a big issue for Harvick last season. This season he's been fast just about everywhere.
   That, Martin says, means they can take gambles: "We're going to be able to take some chances we haven't been able to take in the past. 
   "We're going to have a fleet of cars ready to go to the chase, not one that we're just barely able to get there.
    "Two years ago we were in the chase, had all three cars in, and we were third, fourth, fifth, wherever. We were trying to hit a home run to win the championship. 
    "We've learned from that mistake: that we've got to keep chiseling away every week. 
    "To race with Jimmie Johnson every week, and to get to the level they've been...they're not looking for home runs every week. They're looking to refine their product every week.
     "Last year we might have a car we'd have to run two or three races, go home, turn it around and work really hard on that.
    "Now we've got a fleet of cars, probably seven or eight downforce cars right now. We've got that many cars capable of winning races every week. If we have a problem Friday or Saturday, the one in the truck is just as good, if not better, than the one we unloaded Friday."

 Everywhere he goes this season, Jeff Gordon leaves a trail of angry drivers in his sparking wake (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Survivors, victims, villains and victors

   The Saturday night scorecard, in brief:

   -- Kevin Harvick, after nine yellows, including that huge crash on lap 147 of the scheduled 160-lapper, padded his Sprint Cup tour lead with his second win of the year.   
   -- Kasey Kahne, finally charmed, avoided that late crash and pulled out a second,
   -- Jeff Gordon -- who drew Clint Bowyer's ire after a late incident cost Bowyer not only a shot at the win, in a race he had been leading, but also cost Bowyer a spot in the top-12 points – wound up third, which moves him up to second in the standings heading this week to Chicago.
   -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., following Friday's emotional victory, took advantage of Saturday night's carnage to pull off a fourth, in a 20th-place machine, moving up to 11th in the stands, and giving him a shot at the playoffs.
   -- Comeback honors may go to Jeff Burton, who helped pace the three-man Richard Childress attack. Burton got caught up in that late crash too but rallied to finish fifth.
   -- Downer of the night was easily Kyle Busch's collision with Juan Pablo Montoya, which put Busch behind the wall and left him fuming. Busch was leading at the time.
   -- Also down at the end of the 3-1/2-hour event was Johnson, who saw a seventh-place finish turn into a 31st, when
   -- Another downer: Tony Stewart, whose car caught fire in the big crash and wound up 25th, in the race he won last summer.
   -- Mark Martin also went from the front to the back, in that wreck, finishing 28th and falling out of the top-12. Fortunately he wasn't burned in the fiery crash.
 -- An indication of how weird the night went, Tommy Baldwin, the veteran crew chief turned car owner, pulled off a top-10 with Mike Bliss.
 -- Angriest man of the night: a toss-up among Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Elliott Sadler.   Instead of winning, Bowyer got bounced into the infield while dueling with Gordon and finished an angry 17th. Bowyer of course isn't the first man angry with Gordon's hard driving lately.

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   Kevin Harvick in Daytona's victory lane (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clint Boyer

Someone needs to remind Clint that it is not Gordon's job to push him, its Gordon's job to pass him.

TNT coverage

I'd have loved to made it thru to the end of the race. But after several of those during broadcast 'commercials' every few minutes, I gave up.

It would be okay if they ran these things at normal commercial intervals, leaving the race in the background, but these things were in addition to the 'real' commercials and were averaging one every 6 minutes.

After several of these things(and the muting thereof) I glanced at the clock during one and gave myself an ultimatum: If they do this again in 6 minutes, I'm done, I'm switching to something else.

I hate to admit it, but I'd rather have one, even two, "boogity boogity boogitys" per race than this set up.

I guess you can add me to the list of 'angriest man of the night'...

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