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Heading into bye week ‘Happy’ Harvick leads the way

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to welcome Colonial Beach resident and NASCAR loyalist back in this week’s Journal. Now that spring is almost here and NASCAR interest is high, readers won’t miss getting  the real scoop on items of interest on the NASCAR races.
Kevin Harvick has ridden consecutive runnerup finishes at California and Las Vegas to the  Sprint Cup Series points lead heading into the first bye week of the season. He also came ‘oh so close’ to winning his second Daytona 500 in the season opener.  He led the most laps and seemed firmly in control most of the day, only to get shuffled back to seventh place  in the mad scramble during the final laps.   After four weeks of racing, the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing  looks like the real deal.   In addition to Harvick leading the points race, teammates Clint Bowyer and  Jeff Burton are a solid fifth and sixth place, respectively.
In addition to his strong start in the Sprint Cup series Harvick, captured the win in the Nationwide series race in California and the Camping World truck race last Saturday in Atlanta.  

Last weekend’s stop at Atlanta Motor Speedway was an especially  poignant  venue for Harvick. He got his first win in NASCAR’s premiere circuit at Atlanta in March 2001, in only his third start after replacing the late Dale Earnhardt in Richard Childress Racings flagship car.  Harvick edged Jeff Gordon on that memorable, emotional day, by .006  seconds.  
Even in a down year that was RCR  last season, Harvick finished in the top five at both Atlanta races.  Heading into last Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 Harvick said, “We’re really looking forward to Atlanta. It has become one of those tracks that has been really good for us in anything that we have raced there over the past three or four years.”   Speaking of his first career win Harvick replied, “I don’t remember much about the day. There were so many different emotions and things that ran through my head that it is just kind of more of a strange moment than it was anything.”
Jimmie Johnson has ridden consecutive victories to  20 bonus points, to start the  Chase for the Sprint Cup.  Consistency remains a vital component,  but  that’s not enough.  An increased emphasis on winning gives drivers 10 bonus points for each race win during the “regular season”.   Since it seems a safe bet that Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, will be one of the 12 drivers who qualify for the Chase, it’s worth noting that 20 points could be a significant boost when the Chase begins.  Bonus points certainly didn’t hurt Johnson last season.  He got 30 bonus points, second only to Mark Martin.  
Buoyed by his fast start, Kevin Harvick talked optimistically last week about prospects of challenging Johnson’s team over the course of this season.  “We can run with them and they know it”, said Harvick.  
The importance of winning races in the Sprint Cup series will require that and more.  Speaking with the media at Atlanta,  Johnson acknowledged the threat posed by Harvick and teammate Clint Bowyer, which he sees as a group effort by the Richard Childress organization. “You can’t ignore that the Childress cars  have a ton of speed”, Johnson said.  
The Sprint Cup Series has this weekend off, but will return to action with the Food City 500 at Bristol a week from Sunday. Aside from the inherent excitement created by the  high-banked, half-mile track, the race will have the added importance of being the cutoff for automatic starting spots, based on last season’s owners’ points.  
For the first five races this season,  last year’s top 35 in the final owners’ standings have been guaranteed automatic starting spots in each race.  After Bristol, only  the top 35 in this season’s standings will have guaranteed starting positions.  
In other NASCAR news:  I cheered for the comments in an  interview I read last week with Speedway Motorsports  Chairman Bruton Smith, owner of the tracks at Atlanta, Bristol, Charlotte and several others.  Ole Bruton, never one to suffer fools,  was less than enthusiastic about the sport’s Chase format to select a season champion.  Smith said, “We need to get rid of this points racing. Pay a bigger share of the race purse to the winner, and let ‘em race.”
NASCAR is tentatively set to lose the hated wings and roll out the much anticipated spoilers at Martinsville on March 28.
You may reach Pete Barber at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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