- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Harvick’s victory celebration yesterday was more eventful than his win in the Brickyard 400.

First, Harvick tore up his right rear tire and blew off the fender while spinning doughnuts on the yard of bricks that marks the finish line at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Then, he and team owner Richard Childress kneeled to kiss the bricks.

And, finally, Harvick and the crew of his No.29 Chevrolet followed a new tradition at the speedway — started by open-wheel racer Helio Castroneves in the Indianapolis 500 — by climbing the fence.

“Hey man, if you’re going to win big, you might as well leave your mark,” Harvick said. “You might not get another chance. It was just a lot of fun.”

The big celebration was well deserved after Harvick turned a tight race into a runaway, pulling away in the last 10 laps for the biggest win of his budding NASCAR career.

“I don’t even know if I can explain it. It’s so awesome,” Harvick said after his damaged car was pushed to victory lane by his crew.

He took over at the end of the 160-lap race.

Harvick was second, battling Jamie McMurray for the lead and trying to hold off Winston Cup points leader Matt Kenseth and teammate Robby Gordon on a frantic restart with 16 laps remaining, when a multicar crash broke out behind the leaders.

The leaders raced back to the flagstand before taking the yellow flag, and Harvick found himself on top.

“I always look forward to restarts because I usually make up some ground,” Harvick said. “Jamie went high, we went low, Robby followed us and it was like the seas parted. That was pretty much the race.

“When we got out there in clean air, and I saw that Robby was doing what he had to do to keep them back there, I just put it in cruise control and tried not to make any mistakes.”

The green flag came back out on lap 151, and Harvick got a great jump. He was 10 car-lengths ahead of second-place Gordon at the end of that lap and just kept racing away.

Harvick wound up 2.754 seconds — about 20 car-lengths — ahead of runner-up Kenseth, who grabbed second place on lap 157, passing McMurray as Gordon faded.

Harvick, who averaged 134.554 mph, became the first driver in the 10-year history of the Brickyard race to win from the pole. He didn’t dominate, though, leading only 33 laps, while Tony Stewart was out front for a race-high 60.

But Stewart made an extra pit stop for left-side tires under caution on lap 141 and never got back into the hunt, finishing 12th.

“I mean, my jaw just hit the floor when I saw [Stewart pit],” Harvick said. “I’m positive that he didn’t need to pit. They pretty much gave all the chances they had away, and that was it.”

The distraught Stewart, an Indiana native who covets a win at his home track, left the speedway without comment.

Joe Gibbs, Stewart’s car owner, said, “It’s heartbreaking and it certainly hurts. I think just like people have empathy for a great quarterback who never wins the Super Bowl, there’s empathy for Tony having a tough time winning at the place he really wants to win.”

It was Harvick’s fourth career victory and first in just over a year.

After winning, he paid tribute to Dale Earnhardt, the driver he replaced after the seven-time Winston Cup champion and the 1995 Brickyard winner was killed in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500.

“Anything we can do that Dale Earnhardt did is an accomplishment,” Harvick said.

Harvick, who has had a sometimes contentious relationship with teammate Gordon, gave him some of the credit for yesterday’s win.

“Robby did all he could to hold those guys back there, and this one is much his as it is ours,” Harvick said.

Kenseth, who was in the lead before pitting under caution on lap 140, said, “[Robby] blocked Jamie really bad, but I don’t think it had anything to do with his teammate being in the lead. I think he was doing everything he could to protect his position and we were doing everything we could to try to take it.”

Once he did get around Gordon’s Chevy, Kenseth found himself far behind the leader.

“I was too far behind,” Kenseth said. “We had a good strategy. I should have blocked a little more, but it was a great job by my guys, a great run, and we were close.”

McMurray wound up third, followed by three-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon, defending champion Bill Elliott, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch.

Kenseth came into the race with a solid 232-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the season standings. The runner-up finish for Kenseth, combined with a 14th-place finish by Earnhardt, turned that margin into 286 points with 15 of 36 races remaining.

Until a pair of caution flags came out in the final 21 laps, it appeared the race would be the fifth in a row determined by fuel strategy.

About half the drivers on the lead lap made final stops for two tires and a splash of gas when debris on the track brought out a caution on lap 140. The rest of the leaders then made their stops, and the field was well scrambled when the green flag came back out for lap 145.

That set the stage for Harvick’s dramatic pass.

“I think the pass that he made over there on Jamie was a winning move,” Childress said. “I knew once he got out front, he was going to be hard to beat.”

There was a frightening moment on pit lane on lap 37 when Dale Jarrett spun as he drove off the track and tried to slow in a hurry. Jarrett’s Ford clipped crew member John Bryan then hit the pit wall and wound up facing backward. Bryan’s helmet was broken, but he was able to walk away, complaining of a sore shoulder and pain in his pelvis. He was taken to the hospital and released.

Bryan also was hit on pit road in November 2001, during a race at Homestead, Fla. He came away from that accident with a concussion and a minor knee injury.

Jarrett, a two-time Brickyard winner, wound up 39th, 18 laps behind Harvick.

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