Follow the leaders? Better keep an eye on hot Harvick, too

Updated: September 7, 2009, 5:04 PM ET

Sam Sharpe-US Presswire

Kevin Harvick, top, has been running as well as just about anyone recently.

RICHMOND, Va. -- The hottest driver heading into the championship Chase isn't Jimmie Johnson, although Sunday's victory at Richmond International Raceway was his second straight.

It's not Kyle Busch, who has a Sprint Cup Series-high eight wins and leads the point standings with 5,080.

It's not Carl Edwards, who has three wins in the past six races and is second in points with 5,050.

The hottest driver hasn't won a race since the 2007 Daytona 500.

Can you say Kevin Harvick?

OK, so mathematically it doesn't add up. Edwards' average finish over the past six races is 5.1. Harvick's is 5.5.

But Harvick has a better average finish than Busch (10.5) and Johnson (10.3) over the same time span. And Harvick has six straight top-10 finishes. None of the others has more than five during that stretch.

So case closed. Harvick is the hottest driver.

Kind of.

"This car has been really good over the last three months," Harvick said.

Good, but not great.

The one thing Harvick hadn't been able to do before Sunday was lead laps. He led 80 on a beautiful post-Tropical Storm Hanna afternoon, almost equaling his total (88) in the first 25 races.

"I like to lead laps, but I haven't been a big lap leader," Harvick said. "I seem to lead a few laps at the end -- if we win. It's not like we are really dominant. That's just kind of our MO and how we function."

Perfect example: Harvick led only four laps when he won the Daytona 500. The last time he dominated a race was the 2006 Chase opener at New Hampshire when he led 196 laps en route to the win.

He may need that kind of performance on Sunday, starting the Chase 80 points behind Busch, 50 behind Edwards and 40 behind Johnson. Most of the so-called experts have written off everybody outside those three who have won 18 of 26 events.

But if Harvick can somehow keep the momentum he has and finish the next 10 races with an average finish of 5.5 he'll be right in the thick of things -- unless Johnson duplicates the amazing 5.0 average of a year ago.

That may be too much to ask of Harvick, though. His average finish at the eight tracks NASCAR revisits during the 10-race Chase is 17.3 this season. His only top-10 was a seventh at Atlanta.

But he's done well at the 1.5-mile tracks, and there are five of those in the Chase. He also has two Richard Childress Racing teammates -- Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer -- in the Chase field to help him.

"I felt like our 1.5-mile program is very good right now," Harvick said. "For whatever reason, that's been our weakness before and right now that's our strength.

"So hopefully that continues, and we can keep that going forward on the big tracks, because that's where you're going to have to be good because there's so many of them."

OK, so maybe Harvick isn't the hottest driver entering the Chase. But, as Tony Stewart said, he has a chance because he's in it.

"It's great to finally get all that over with," Harvick said of making the field. "We've run well the last few months and have to keep that up and pick it up a notch and make something happen.

"Glad that we've been able to be competitive over the last few months, but now we need to be more competitive as we go forward."

-- David Newton

Nationwide Series: Bowyer tightens title grip; Logano and Zipadelli get some practice in

RICHMOND, Va. -- It wasn't quite the dream weekend Clint Bowyer seemingly was weaving Sunday night while he was dominating the Emerson Radio 250 Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway.

While Bowyer's main goal was accomplished under sunny skies at RIR -- when he clinched a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- it appeared as if that was simply going to be part of a doubleheader to remember. Already the leader in the Nationwide Series championship standings, Bowyer securing his second win of the season in the series looked to be a mere formality.

Until he was passed by both Carl Edwards and Scott Wimmer, that is. Still, the third-place finish, coupled with a 21st-place effort for Brad Keselowski, moved Bowyer still closer to at least one championship this year.

Edwards did move into second in the standings, but sits 207 points back heading into an off weekend. Keselowski fell 279 points back.

And while the focus was on the top three drivers and Bowyer's domination atop the standings, a move that may eventually pay big dividends for another team went largely unnoticed.

Coming off a second-place finish with Tony Stewart in the Sprint Cup race, crew chief Greg Zipadelli stuck around for the Nationwide race and called the shots from atop Joey Logano's pit box. The resulting seventh-place finish wasn't a big deal by Logano's already lofty standards, but it was the first time the two worked together during a race.

Next year, of course, Zipadelli will be guiding Logano's rookie Cup campaign, so any chance to work together now is a bonus.

"I'm just helping out because of the situation that our Nationwide guys are in and it gives me an opportunity to hear and make some adjustments on the car and see how sensitive he is to adjustments and stuff," said Zipadelli, who worked with interim crew chief Doug Hewitt as Dave Rogers serves an indefinite NASCAR suspension. "It might give us a little bit of a head start on next year. It's a learning curve and we are just trying to accelerate it as fast as we can."

Outside of working with Zipadelli, Logano wasn't all that enthused with his ninth top-10 in 12 Nationwide Series starts.

"We started off decent and then the brakes started pulsating. I got really loose into the corner and we tried to fix that. Then that would make me tight in the center -- that would make me loose off [the corner]," Logano said. "We fixed that.

"At the end it wasn't that bad, we were just slow and I don't know why. Besides that, we had good pit stops. We gained spots every time we came in, so that was good."

In the end, though, Logano's first chance to run a race with his future Cup crew chief will likely be something he'll remember more than where he finished.

-- Mark Ashenfelter

Craftsman Truck Series: Hornaday starts chipping away at Benson's lead

Kevin Harvick Inc. crew chief Rick Ren crunched the numbers, figuring there may not be any more big swings in the Craftsman Truck Series title chase. With Johnny Benson leading the points on the strength of four wins in six starts coming into Saturday's race at Gateway (Ill.), Ren figured his man, defending champion Ron Hornaday Jr., would have to chip, chip away at a 119-point deficit.

"Going into this race I needed 15 points a race [over the final nine events]," Ren said. "We got 25."

Hornaday and the KHI No. 33 team dropped their points deficit back to within double digits and put another win in the books, leading 113 of 160 laps on the 1.25-mile oval at Gateway International Raceway to serve a reminder that Benson's Bill Davis Racing No. 23 Toyota isn't guaranteed the title.

While Benson had streaked in recent weeks, Hornaday faltered. A second-place finish at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis was a disappointment, a fifth at Nashville was a missed opportunity and a 24th-place night at Bristol, Tenn., was a complete disaster after a crash including KHI teammate Jack Sprague.

For Gateway, the team built a new Chevy, qualified second and grabbed the lead immediately.

"That kind of shows this team doesn't get down," Ren said. "It was a real good day for us and lets everybody else know at the racetrack that we're not rolling over, we didn't roll over last year and we're not going to roll over now."

Ren ordered four new tires for Hornaday on a Lap 104 pit stop, the final stop for the lead pack. Six other trucks took two tires in a track-position grab, the only way they could contend for the win. Benson led for a half-dozen laps and pole sitter Dennis Setzer took a turn up front, but Hornaday's march couldn't be stopped and he led the final 30 laps.

Benson finished third, making this year's race nearly the opposite of last year, when the No. 23 won and Hornaday finished second. It was Benson's eighth top-four finish in the past nine races.

Setzer held on for second in a weekend that lifted the spirits at Bobby Hamilton Racing-Virginia. The team parked its No. 4 Dodge, driven by Stacy Compton, and laid off 15 employees earlier in the week as financial constraints forced the team to focus on one truck, Setzer's No. 18. A pole and a runner-up finish helped validate that move.

Germain Racing's Todd Bodine and Sprague rounded out the top five. Marc Davis, making his Trucks debut at age 18, finished 16th for Randy Moss Motorsports.

-- John Schwarb

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Mark Garrow rocks back to Richmond where Jimmie Johnson outdueled Tony Stewart to grab the victory. Plus, the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is set.
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Standings

Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson

  • Jimmie Johnson won the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sunday. Johnson posted his 37th career victory in his 245th race. Johnson posted his fourth victory of the 2008 season. Johnson also won at Phoenix, Indy and the second California race a week ago. He posted his third victory at Richmond in his 14th start. Johnson has won three of the past four races at Richmond. He finished 30th at RIR in June. Johnson won the race from the third-place starting position and led 32 of the 400 laps raced, including the final nine laps.
  • David Reutimann led 104 laps in the race, the most of the day and the most in his career.
  • Johnson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards combined have won the past nine races of the season (each has won three).
  • Hendrick Motorsports scored its 10th victory at Richmond. Hendrick posted its fifth victory of the 2008 season.
  • Tony Stewart posted his fourth second-place finish of the season. He has not won a race since Watkins Glen in 2007, 40 races ago.
  • Jeff Gordon (eighth) has gone 31 races without a victory, tying his longest streak between victories.
  • Michael McDowell, who finished 20th, was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • The top 10 consisted of six Chevrolets, three Toyotas and one Dodge. The highest-finishing Ford was Edwards in 13th.
  • All 43 cars were running at the finish, the fifth time in NASCAR history that has occurred.
  • The 2008 Chase is made up of four teams: Hendrick Motorsports with Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Joe Gibbs Racing with Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Stewart; Roush Fenway Racing with Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Edwards; and Richard Childress Racing with Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton.
  • Kasey Kahne (19th) failed to make the 2008 Chase, finishing 13th in the final points, 69 points behind 12th-place Bowyer.
  • The following cars/drivers must qualify on time heading to New Hampshire: No. 7 Robby Gordon; No. 77 Sam Hornish Jr.; No. 10 Patrick Carpentier; No. 96 TBA; and No. 45 Kyle Petty.

Nationwide

Carl Edwards

Edwards

  • Carl Edwards won the Emerson Radio 250 at Richmond International Speedway. Edwards scored his 17th career victory in his 134th race. He passed Joe Nemechek and Jeff Green for 14th on the all-time wins list. Edwards scored his fourth win of the 2008 season. He has won two of the past four races this season and posted his second Richmond victory in his eighth race. He won in his first start at Richmond in May 2005. Edwards posted his third short-track victory in the series. Edwards led twice for 34 laps.
  • Edwards gained 15 points on points leader Clint Bowyer.
  • Roush Fenway Racing scored its eighth Richmond victory, the most of all teams. It posted its fifth win of the 2008 season.
  • Ford posted its 14th victory at Richmond and its sixth of the 2008 season.
  • Seven of the nine drivers who competed in the Sprint Cup race earlier in the day finished in the top 10.
  • Points leader Bowyer, who finished third, led a race-high 195 laps. Bowyer posted his series-leading 23rd top-10 finish of the season.
  • Joey Logano, who finished seventh, posted his ninth top-10 finish in 12 career starts.
  • Kevin Harvick rebounded to finish eighth after a pit-road violation dropped him to 18th on the Lap 217 restart.
  • Jason Keller, who made his 450th start in the race, finished 16th.
  • Austin Dillon, who finished 26th, made his Series debut.
  • Landon Cassill, who finished 12th, was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • The top 10 consisted of three Fords, four Chevrolets and three Toyotas. Elliott Sadler -- who finished 19th -- was the highest-finishing Dodge.
  • Bryan Clauson blew an engine while running 23rd on Lap 93. He finished the race 38th.
  • David Reutimann brought out the race's fourth caution of the night after he hit the wall on Lap 106 while running eighth. He remained on pit road when the field took the restart on Lap 112. When he returned to the track he was in 35th position.
  • Brad Keselowski (third in points) struggled all night. He started the race third and was running one lap down within the first 90 laps of the race. After receiving the free pass twice during the race, he finished 21st.

Craftsman Truck

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Hornaday

  • Ron Hornaday Jr. won the Camping World 200 at Gateway International Raceway. Hornaday scored his series-leading 37th victory in his 217th race. It was Hornaday's fourth win of 2008, tying Johnny Benson for the most. Hornaday won from the second starting position, the eighth race won from the top four in 11 Gateway races.
  • Hornaday became the 10th different winner in the 11 races at Gateway, Ted Musgrave is the only repeat winner.
  • It was the 13th win for Kevin Harvick Inc., fourth of 2008, all by Hornaday this season.
  • Chevrolet posted its sixth win of the 2008 season, Toyota has nine and Ford and Dodge have one apiece.
  • Hornaday led four times for 113 laps including the final 30.
  • The race was slowed eight times for 38 laps.
  • The race featured eight lead changes among five drivers.
  • The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, three Fords, two Chevrolets and one Dodge.
  • The highest finishing Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate was Colin Braun, in ninth.
  • Marc Davis finished 16th in his series debut.
  • Points leader Benson finished third. His points lead is now 94 over second-place Hornaday. Hornaday gained 25 points on Benson with the victory.

-- Racing Resources