Harvick, NASCAR win in New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR’s popularity might be on the wane (or so we’re told) but you’d be hard-pressed to find much better action on the track these days.

Consider Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It featured nothing but an edge-of-your-seat finish between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. A bit of beating and banging and a drag race out of the final turn to the finish line.

If you missed it, well you’ll likely have the opportunity to see numerous replays. It was highlight worthy.

As far as the particulars? Harvick, winless since last November, ended a stretch of 21 winless starts. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver knows the way to victory lane at NHMS – he’d won there three times before Sunday.

But it took a gutsy call by crew chief Rodney Childers to put Harvick out front – opting for track position rather than fresh tires under caution with little more than 25 laps remaining. That put his No. 4 Ford first on the ensuing restart and it proved to be the winning call.

“I didn’t think we had the best chance to win staying out,” Harvick said, “but Rodney and those guys made a great call.

“We had a good car all day, we just never could get track position and stayed out there, ran a lot of good laps.”

As for holding off Hamlin?

“He tried to move me out of the way down there (in Turn 1) and I knew that was coming as close as he was,” Harvick said.

“So, I just stood on the brakes and I’m … half-throttle down the back straightaway. I’m like ‘you’re not getting under me again’ and he drove to the outside of me …. I waited until he got near me and I just put a wheel on him.”

Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota) had been among those taking two tires and the former race leader restarted fourth. It took him nearly the entire run to catch Harvick, but you know what they say – catching someone and passing them, well, it’s not the same thing.

Hamlin did but he couldn’t.

The finish certainly spiced things up, but the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, No. 20 of 36, was far from a snoozer. Maybe you have to be there, I don’t know.

Kyle Busch won the opening stage and led 118 laps, Aric Almirola took the second and there were enough lead changes and cautions too keep things interesting.

The rest of the rundown had Erik Jones (JGR) in third and Ryan Blaney (Team Penske Ford) in fourth and Matt DiBenedetto (Leavine Family Racing Toyota) finishing fifth. Those folks didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to finish that high – other than run extremely well for the better part of the day.

The three had varied pit strategies as well – and were in the top 10 before and after the final pit cycle. So nobody snookered anyone to gain spots they hadn’t pretty much already earned. Jones had stayed out while Blaney and DiBenedetto took right-side tires only.

It was an impressive showing for Hamlin, whose team rolled out a backup after he spun and damaged the primary on Friday.

“This is nowhere near the car that I wrecked on Friday,” Hamlin said.

Speaking of backups – Alex Bowman finished 14th in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48/88 Chevrolet. On-track incidents damaged the No. 88 team’s primary (Friday) and backup (Saturday). Crew chief Greg Ives “borrowed” the No. 48 team’s backup for race day.

The No. 48 primary didn’t fare as well – seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson lost laps when he lost power steering and finished 30th.

Points leader and defending series champion Joey Logano (Team Penske Ford) finished ninth.

• Harvick became the season’s 10th winner – his playoff chances were already solid with his third-place points position. Sunday’s win erased any doubt.

Stewart dedicates win to fallen comrade

Sunday, July 9, 2000 – Tony Stewart, a three-time series winner the year before as a fresh-faced rookie, won for the third time in his sophomore season when he won the rain-shortened thatlook.com 300 NASCAR premier series race at New Hampshire International Speedway.

The call to keep Stewart on the track during the second of two red flags for rain proved decisive when officials ended the race 27 laps shy of its scheduled 300-lap distance. Stewart led 156 of the 273 laps completed in his No. 20 Pontiac for Joe Gibbs Racing. Joe Nemechek, Mark Martin, Jerry Nadeau and Jeff Gordon completed the top five.

Driver Kenny Irwin was killed during practice two days earlier at NHMS when his car struck the wall in Turn 3 and overturned. In spite of the fatality, which came approximately eight weeks after the death of Adam Petty in almost exactly the same place on the track, NASCAR continued with practice and qualifying.  Irwin was NASCAR Rookie of the Year in the Cup Series in 1998.

In the same race a year earlier, Stewart had lost the race at NHMS despite dominating when he ran out of gas with less than three laps remaining.

Jeff Burton, winner of three consecutive July races at New Hampshire, was involved in an accident with Chad Little and finished 11th.