If Kevin Harvick somehow manages to rally over the final three races and capture his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, he will point to the Amp Energy Juice 500 at Talladega Superspeedway as a key turning point.
But it was how Harvick snatched a near-victory from the jaws of defeat that truly made his run something special. Harvick’s No. 29 RCR Chevrolet was collateral damage when Jeff Burton crashed on Lap 134, and Marcos Ambrose slid in front of Harvick.
Harvick’s reaction — and his crew’s subsequent repairs — saved his race.
“When I saw him (Ambrose) start to spin, I didn't want to spin out,” Harvick said. “I didn't want to come back up the racetrack. I didn't want to spin backwards and have a chance of getting in the wall. He just kind of rolled across the nose. I was able to just kind of not keep hitting him. I was able to just kind of go back on the gas and push him off of me. That was the best way I knew at that point to minimize the damage on the nose.”
Harvick’s front end requiring a liberal amount of Bear Bond repair tape to the nose. At that point, it appeared Harvick’s chances of winning were nil, and he’d be hard pressed to even get a decent finish.
With lap speeds in excess of 190 miles per hour at Talladega, aerodynamics are critical, and the RCR crew did quick work in the pits.
“The hood wasn't wrinkled up,” Harvick said of his No. 29 Realtree-sponsored Chevrolet. “I didn't see any fender damage. I knew I had flat spotted a couple tires. My main concern was not popping the tires. We came right into pit road. The dent in the front was the biggest problem we had. The cap blew off on one of those restarts. Did a great job fixing it. Got the fenders pulled out. As long as we were in the middle of the pack, we were fine.”
In the race’s closing laps, Harvick and Bowyer hooked up, with Harvick actually leading coming to the white flag. But seconds later, Bowyer took the lead just as the caution came out for a wreck on the frontstretch. And that was the race.
Afterwards, Harvick was gracious in defeat.
“Well, about six inches and we would have won every speedway race there was this year,” said Harvick, who won the spring Talladega race and the July Daytona one. “It's just one of those deals where we've won a few by a few inches and we've lost a few. It's hard to complain because you can wind up on the wrecker pretty easy. Happy we kept the trophy at RCR. If you're going to lose to somebody, it's good to lose to your teammates and keep the trophy and the money in the right house.”
And he vowed to be ready to do his best to knock off Johnson, who sat next to him during his post-race interview. “Everybody but them wants somebody else to win,” Harvick said, pointing to Johnson. “I like Jimmie as good as anybody. But for the sake of the sport, one of the two of us (Hamlin or Harvick) needs to make something happen. I can promise you that.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.