Harvick wins for first time in a year
Sunday, July 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
JOLIET, Ill. (AP) _ Kevin Harvick won for the second straight year at Chicagoland Speedway, passing up a late pit stop to gain the lead, then pulling away Sunday to win the Tropicana 400.
And he just barely had enough fuel. Harvick ran out of gas while driving celebratory doughnuts in front of the packed grandstand.
The top Winston Cup rookie in 2001 picked up his third career victory _ but first in the 12 months since his last visit to the suburban Chicago track.
The race's dramatic finish was set up on lap 240 of the 267-lap event. Pole-winner Ryan Newman, who was leading the race, nearly crashed as his right front tire went flat. Jerry Nadeau lost control of his car and crashed behind Newman.
The seventh caution of the race allowed the leaders to pit, but Harvick and Jeff Gordon _ who had been running ninth and 10th, respectively _ stayed on the track.
Gordon, the four-time and defending series champion, couldn't get past the new leader on the restart on lap 248, and Harvick's Chevrolet distanced itself steadily to the finish.
``The biggest worry I had was on the restart,'' Harvick said. ``Jeff Gordon is great on restarts. When he didn't get me there, I thought we could win it.''
Harvick won by 0.812 seconds, finishing about eight car-lengths ahead.
``My car was great in clean air, but when I got up close to him, the front end just took off,'' said Gordon, whose winless string is now 26 races. ``He drove the line he need to run and I'm just happy to come in second.''
Harvick got a big break on lap 197 when he dove to the bottom of the slightly banked track on the main straightaway to get past Kurt Busch and wound up losing control and skidding through the paved area below the white line in the first turn.
On some tracks, that is considered out of bounds. Not at Chicagoland.
Harvick was able to regain control and pit after Elliott Sadler, Hut Stricklin and Nadeau spun behind him.
Tony Stewart, who appeared to have the fastest car on the track through most of the last half of the race, wound up third after taking gas only on his last pit stop.
Stewart, who left immediately after the finish to fly to Kokomo, Ind., for a sprint car race Sunday night, said, ``I had the best car out there, but we had a fuel problem. Halfway through our runs, something was happening to the fuel pressure and I had to come in earlier than we wanted to.''
Jimmie Johnson, who started 37th in the 43-car field, finished fourth, just ahead of fellow rookie Newman and Busch, who qualified second but had to start from the rear of the field after blowing an engine in practice Saturday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 73 laps but lost his final lead to Newman on lap 202 and wound up finishing 10th after taking on four new tires on his last stop. Newman was second in laps led with 56.