CONCORD, N.C. (AP) _ Because Kevin Harvick wrecked three times in his first six All-Star appearances, there was no reason to expect this year to be much better.
But car owner Richard Childress is on such a hot streak, the team should have known its luck was about to change.
Harvick scored a $1 million jackpot Saturday night by beating Jimmie Johnson to the finish line of the Nextel All-Star Challenge, temporarily kicking Hendrick Motorsports out of Victory Lane.
Hendrick drivers had won eight of the last nine points races and Johnson had a stranglehold on Lowe's Motor Speedway, where he's won seven times since 2003.
``To beat Jimmie and the Hendrick crew _ I've got so much respect for Rick and his whole organization, and this is their home track,'' Childress said. ``So to go out and see Kevin do a great job of driving, one of the best I've ever seen ... no pressure got to him and he beat that team here. Just a huge win.''
One that kept Childress perfect on the weekend.
The longtime car owner opened All-Star festivities by revealing a merger with Dale Earnhardt Inc. that would produce engines for both teams. The deal was struck between Childress and Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, as a way to strengthen both organizations and allow them to challenge Hendrick and Joe Gibbs Racing for superiority in NASCAR's top series.
As the garage buzzed with news of the merger, Childress scored a victory in an Atlanta courtroom when sponsor AT&T won an injunction against NASCAR to place its logos on RCR driver Jeff Burton's car. The car has been sponsored by Cingular, but the company was absorbed by AT&T and NASCAR wouldn't allow a name change because of its exclusivity agreement with series sponsor Sprint Nextel.
The appeals stretched into Saturday afternoon, and when the judge finally ruled that AT&T would be on the car for Saturday's race, RCR officials had to scramble to change Burton's paint scheme.
``I haven't slept a whole lot, I can tell you that. It's been a long year, we've had a lot of challenges,'' Childress said. ``I was looking at where we're going to be at RCR in two years, and where DEI is at. I want to do everything I can as a joint venture with those folks to make DEI as strong as ever, and to have RCR just proud to be back in it.
``I know Dale would be proud of what we're doing today.''
Earnhardt would also be proud of Harvick, the driver who took over his team following Earnhardt's 2001 death.
Harvick never loved the All-Star race, but it was always one of Earnhardt's favorites and he and Childress always put all their effort into winning it. They did it three times, including the 1987 ``Pass in the Grass'' victory that is considered one of NASCAR's greatest races.
But the event only frustrated Harvick, who finished last in his 2001 debut and wrecked again in 2004 and 2005. When he did finish, he never had anything to challenge Johnson, a two-time All-Star race winner.
For the first three segments Saturday night, it seemed as if little would change for Harvick.
The race was Matt Kenseth's to lose, and he did, picking up arguably the biggest speeding fine in history when he was flagged for driving too fast off pit road following the final stops. After leading 37 laps, Kenseth was pushed to the back of the field and taken out of contention.
That opened things up for Harvick, who started the final 20-lap segment in fourth place. But he quickly used a three-wide pass to get by Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch and take the lead. It was a gutsy move at the time, but once out front, he told his crew it had just won him the race.
``I told 'em, `We just threw the haymaker, boys, and I think it landed,''' Harvick said. ``I just didn't really think we had anything to lose. I said, `What the heck? We'll just try it up top here.' I didn't let off the gas and it didn't hit the wall.''
Gordon then got a flat tire and Busch, who had led 23 laps, wrecked with his older brother, Kurt.
It left only Johnson to deal with, but he barely mounted a challenge and stayed in line behind Harvick until the final lap. Johnson made one attempt at a pass, Harvick blocked it, then drove off to his second win of the season.
Harvick's other victory also was a jackpot _ he earned $1.5 million for winning the season-opening Daytona 500.
``It was only a check and a trophy on the line, so I was going to do all to make it happen,'' Harvick said. ``To win a Daytona 500 and the All-Star race, that's pretty cool.''