RICHMOND — Richmond International Raceway is billed as the "action track." And from the famous 1986 Darrell Waltrip-Dale Earnhardt duel to the 2008 Kyle-Busch-Dale Earnhardt Jr. battle to the Nelson Piquet-Brian Scott slugfest Friday, it often has lived up to its name.
For 327 laps of the Sprint Cup Toyota Owners 400, however, RIR offered a few interesting storylines, but little in the way of compelling racing. Then the boys had at it, to borrow a popular NASCAR saying, and Richmond became Richmond.
Kevin Harvick thrives in such an atmosphere, and did so again Saturday. He rallied from seventh place on a restart with two laps to go to win his third Cup race at RIR.
He jetted past several drivers on the inside between Turns 1 and 2 on the penultimate lap, then went outside of leader Jeff Burton to complete a pass entering 4 approaching the white flag. When he crossed the line 3/10-of-a-second ahead of runner-up Clint Bowyer — chaos ensuing behind him as Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart played bumper cars — it was only the second lap he led under green.
"To be sitting there seventh on four tires, and the only other guy on four tires (Stewart) sitting on the outside, I felt like if I could get by the row in front of me. …the guys on no (new) tires were sitting ducks," Harvick said.
Harvick decided to pit for tires after getting a huge break on lap 395 of a scheduled 400, when Brian Vickers ran into the wall to bring out the caution. At that point, Harvick was running second and had little chance of overtaking Juan Pablo Montoya, who led the previous 67 laps.
But Montoya, Harvick, Carl Edwards and Bowyer, the race leaders, pitted for tires during the caution, which would extend the race to 406 laps. That put Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger — "sitting ducks" because they had more than 60 laps each on their tires — in the top three spots.
"It was right when it needed to be," said Harvick's crew chief Gil Martin of their Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. "I mean, for those of you that have been around here for a long time, that restart by him, that was vintage Kevin Harvick.
"That was exciting to watch."
Bowyer was the only Toyota in the top 10, a surprise on a night when three of the brand's drivers combined to lead the first 293 laps. Joey Logano, Montoya, Burton, Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10.
Kenseth's early strength in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was one big storyline. He led three times for 140 laps in the first half of the race, determined to rebound after NASCAR docked him 50 points, the pole and victory bonus points for an engine part that was three grams too light during his win a week ago in Kansas.
He was eighth on the final restart, still in contention, but was slowed by contact with Kurt Busch, who contended that Kenseth was at fault in that situation.
Kurt Busch was involved in some interesting plotlines. He led 36 laps, taking the lead from brother Kyle, who had led the previous 40. That had people talking about brothers finishing 1-2 in a Cup race for the first time since the early 1950s.
But things got crazy the final 75 laps. Stewart got loose and started a three-car wreck that included Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, who faded to 24th in his push for a fifth consecutive spring race win here.
Kurt Busch knocked Martin Truex Jr. into the wall as they battled for second behind Montoya with 45 laps remaining. Following the final restart, Kurt Busch was involved in contact with Kenseth and Stewart, who angrily drove his Chevy into Busch's on pit road after the race.
"He just rammed us right there at the end," said Stewart, who finished 18th. "We were actually going to leave here with a decent finish until everything happened at the end."
Kurt Busch said, "A green-white-checkered at the end, it is just chaos. Cars are everywhere. People are beating and shoving each other out of the way. It's pretty wild."
Which made it the perfect setup for Harvick.
"You had to go and be as aggressive as you thought you could be without taking yourself out of the race," Harvick said. "Fortunately we were able to have it all line up for us tonight."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times