By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong
Cruel twists, dramatic turns, raised voices. The closing laps Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway tested the taut emotions of drivers.
Kevin Harvick yelled after he went from seventh to first on the next-to-last lap to score his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the year and 20th of his career. The Toyota Owners 400 was extended six laps for a green-white checkered finish.
For so long, it looked as if Juan Pablo Montoya would earn his first career Cup oval win until a caution five laps from the scheduled finish snatched his advantage, leaving him to scream on the radio: “Do you believe that?’’
There was Tony Stewart yelling “get over it’’ to Kurt Busch in the garage area after a chaotic final lap that saw Stewart nearly run Busch into the wall after the checkered flag. Stewart walked out of the garage without talking to reporters.
“Once those cautions start coming out at this place, I think you see all you want to see,’’ runner-up Clint Bowyer said.
It was more than what Montoya, who would finish fourth, wanted to see.
His reaction when the caution came out after Brian Vickers crashed?
“Pissed off,’’ Montoya said.
Harvick said he didn’t think he would be able to catch Montoya without that caution.
When the caution waved, Harvick came into the pits for four tires. He restarted seventh.
It seemed as if the season-long theme of pit decisions going against them would haunt Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin.
“This has been one of the most difficult years for making decisions,’’ Martin said. “If a final caution comes out in the last 10 or 15 laps and you’re within sixth to 12th place, it’s a no-man’s land because there are so many cars on the lead lap.
“We’ve been on the wrong end of that, so we’ve got to be more aggressive and (Saturday) it paid off for us.’’
Harvick remained hopeful with the top three not pitting and “sitting ducks.’’
He worried that the outside line might have an advantage, though. Instead, the low line worked best in Turns 1 and 2.
“They all went up and I went down,’’ Harvick said.
Or as Martin called it: “Vintage Kevin Harvick.’’
Harvick then moved past teammate Jeff Burton and went on to the victory and shedding the frustration Harvick and his team have had much of the season.
“A win goes a long way and we have a really busy testing schedule,’’ Harvick said. “We haven’t really tested at any of the race tracks we’ve run at yet, so we have a busy schedule and wining a race and all the things that come with tonight will lead toward guys not being as aggravated to go test and do the things that we have to go do in the next month.’’
Not everyone left with good feelings, especially Martin Truex Jr., who spun after contact with Busch.
“It’s a shame to get to where we were there and get spun,’’ he said after placing 17th. “A little bit disappointed but that’s the way it goes on short tracks, I guess. I’ll remember if we get in that position again what I’ll do to Kurt.’’
Said Busch, who finished ninth: “Truex came down really early on the straightaway. I was very surprised by him. We had position on the inside and he turned down really early to get into turn three. I was disappointed in how it turned out. He put himself in position to spin out.’’
Montoya left with mixed feelings after seeing his chance for victory go away.
“I do feel bad for Juan,’’ Bowyer said. “He has struggled the ast two or three years. I really thought he was going to win that race. He drove his ass off to keep Harvick behind him. That was his race.
“I was happy that he ran well, you know, felt bad that he didn't get to win. That was after my shot at winning was surpassed, okay? Make that clear (smiling).’’
Joey Logano, who finished third, felt good that he wasn’t at the center of any emotional drama as he has in recent weeks.
“Just proud of my guys,’’ Logano said. “They took a 20th place car at one point and got it back up into the top 10. We were sixth for the last caution. We just followed Kevin through. That whole inside lane was going. If we started on the outside, could have been a whole different story. ‘’
Jeff Burton, who did not pit during the final caution and led at the last restart fell back to fifth because of the older tires, still it was his best finish of the season.
“We were going to maybe finish sixth without the caution so to pick up a spot from it was worth a shot,’’ Burton said.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Talladega Superspeedway for the Aaron's 499 on Sunday, May 5.