Harvick turns tables on Johnson this time
This year it’s Kevin Harvick’s house, not Jimmie Johnson’s.
Johnson calls Lowe’s Motor Speedway “his house,” because of Johnson’s stellar record at the high-banked, 1.5-mile oval in suburban Charlotte, where he has five Nextel Cup wins and two victories in the series’ all-star race.
He seemed poised to win a third Nextel All-Star Challenge as he tucked in behind leader Harvick, another Californian, with fewer than 20 laps left Saturday night.
But Johnson couldn’t get his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet past Harvick, who drives for Richard Childress Racing and held on to win the $1-million first prize in the no-points NASCAR stock car race between 21 drivers.
It was the Bakersfield native’s first all-star victory and sweet revenge for Harvick, who finished second to Johnson in last year’s race. Harvick also won this year’s season-opening Daytona 500, which also earned him more than $1 million.
Mark Martin of Ginn Racing was third, Harvick teammate Jeff Burton finished fourth and Tony Stewart of Joe Gibbs Racing was fifth. The top five finishers all drove Chevrolets.
“Everything just worked really well tonight,” said Harvick, who hadn’t given the all-star event much priority in the past. “The 48 car has been the car to beat here. Once we got the track position we were OK.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the all-star race, but I guess I have a million reasons to be now. To win the Daytona 500 and the all-star race, that’s pretty cool.”
Harvick’s win also gave Childress his first all-star victory since the late Dale Earnhardt won the race for him in 1993.
The race -- a prelude to the Coca-Cola 600 points race here May 27 -- was divided into four 20-lap segments interspersed with pit stops. It wasn’t until the last segment that Harvick took the lead and Johnson made his charge.
“I threw all I had at it and came up a little bit short,” Johnson said. “We got off to a rough start. We had a problem with the left front [tire] rubbing and we had to work that out.”
Matt Kenseth, the pole-sitter who was driving one of only two Fords in the race, easily won the race’s first segment for Roush Fenway Racing as the sun set on a clear, balmy day.
Johnson teammate Kyle Busch won the second, and Kenseth also won the third. But then NASCAR caught Kenseth speeding on pit road and sent him to the rear. “It was just a dumb mistake that cost us the race,” Kenseth said.
That handed the lead to four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon -- another Hendrick driver who is tied with Earnhardt for most all-star wins with three -- for the dash to the finish.
But others quickly passed him, including brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch, who then crashed into each other with only 18 laps left.
“I was waiting for the day when we got together, and we did,” said Kurt, the older brother who drives a Dodge for Penske Racing. “That was a bummer.”
Eighteen of the all-star drivers qualified as Cup race winners in 2006 and 2007, former all-star winners or former Cup champions.
Chevrolet drivers Martin Truex Jr. of the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team and Johnny Sauter of Haas CNC Racing also made the race by finishing first and second, respectively, in the Nextel Open, a 40-lap sprint that preceded the all-star event.
Another Chevy driver, Kenny Wallace of Furniture Row Racing, also was voted into the race by NASCAR fans.
Also in the Open, Michael Waltrip finished 20th in his first race since the Daytona 500 in February.
Burton’s No. 31 Chevrolet carried the AT&T; logo in the race after a federal judge and an appeals court refused to grant NASCAR’s request to block AT&T; from replacing the Cingular logo on the car.
AT&T; made the change because it acquired Cingular. But NASCAR opposed the change to protect its series sponsor, Sprint Nextel, an AT&T; rival in telecommunications.
AT&T; sued, and U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob in Atlanta issued an injunction Friday that let AT&T; make the change. NASCAR requested a stay of the ruling but Shoob denied it, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also denied NASCAR’s emergency petition.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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