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NASCAR NEWS 

Harvick denies Earnhardt victory

Kevin Harvick wins at MartinsvilleKevin Harvick snatched another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory by beating Dale Earnhardt Jr in the closing laps at Martinsville.

The Richard Childress Racing driver pulled off another last-gasp charge, overtaking his Hendrick rival with four laps remaining to claim his second consecutive win, having beaten Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch in more dramatic fashion a week ago at Fontana.

Regarded as the best 'closer' in Cup, Harvick was in attack mode in the last part of the race, restarting from the outside of the front row in what turned out to be the final green flag with 29 laps remaining. Initially he struggled to keep his position as Earnhardt and Juan Pablo Montoya were able to pass him while making the most of their inside-line positions on the restart.

However Harvick fought back, while ahead of him Earnhardt bumped the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Busch to take the lead with 20 laps remaining. After overtaking Montoya, Harvick was able to complete the pass for second on Busch, starting his pursuit of the leader.

Lapped traffic helped Harvick get to the rear bumper of Earnhardt, putting the pressure on him as the lap count faded. With five laps remaining the Hendrick driver, who entered the event with a 98-race winless streak, got loose at the exit of Turn 4 and Harvick was able to power off the corner quick enough to get side-by-side with him.

He eventually completed the pass on the inside of Turn 1, pulling away to leave Earnhardt fighting it out with Busch for second place, before claiming his first ever Cup win at Martinsville.

"I didn't think we had the car to do that and just came back up through there," said Harvick, whose second victory of the season vaults him up four places to fourth in the Cup standings.

"We put those two tyres on and I got to the front and all the sudden everything was woken up. So I had a lot of fun racing with Dale Jr, and I hate to be the guy that is the bad guy here but we are in it to win it."

Earnhardt was able to hold off a charging Busch in the end, the pair racing side-by-side until the chequered flag. The second place for the Gibbs racer allowed him to reclaim the points lead, which he had already held following the second race of the season at Phoenix.

"I tried to put together some laps there but the back of car just wasn't into the track enough," said Earnhardt. "The #29 [Harvick], he was coming and there just wasn't much I could do. Got a little loose there going down into [Turn] 1. I wanted to do a little bit of a crossover move and I thought I had that but we got down into Turn 3, I wanted to keep my nose there but not too much.

"I had already got into Kyle pretty hard racing for the lead there. I just tried to keep the nose in there without turning him sideways and allowing Kyle to get into the mix. I don't know what I could have done different."

Busch led the most laps in the end, but had to accept defeat once again, albeit with another healthy amount of points after his fourth top-three finish in the first six races of the season.

Montoya finished a solid fourth, making an impressive recovery from 27th on the grid, with a great charge that saw him break into the top 10 before the 100-lap mark without any strategy moves involved. He dropped a lap down due a late call to the pits halfway through, but eventually charged through to take his fourth top-10 finish of the year.

"We had a good day," said Montoya. "Qualified horrible yesterday. Everybody did an amazing job. We had a good racecar. It was really good on the long runs. That really helped us out. Good calls from the team. We looked good at the end."

Hendrick's Jeff Gordon looked a contender for victory for most of the afternoon but finished fifth in the end, ahead of the Roush Fenway Ford of Matt Kenseth, pole-sitter Jamie McMurray (Earnhardt Ganassi), Kenseth's team-mate David Ragan, RCR's Clint Bowyer - who led 91 laps - and Hendrick's Mark Martin, who finished 10th in his 800th Cup series career start.

Pre-race favourites Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson were contenders at the front for most of the day, both leading a good number of laps. However Hamlin's final green-flag pitstop was followed by an untimely caution as many of his rivals had yet to pit, leaving him initially a lap down, then down in the order with not enough laps to make up the lost ground.

Meanwhile Johnson was caught speeding entering the pits on his final stop under the last caution, putting him right behind Hamlin as the last cars on the lead lap for the final restart. They eventually finished 12th and 11th in the order respectively.

Former points leader Carl Edwards had a lacklustre afternoon, finishing 18th and a lap down.

Among the many incidents typical of short-track racing at Martinsville, a fiery accident on lap 221 caused the longest caution period of a total of 11 during the race. The throttle on Martin Truex Jr's Toyota got stuck as he was fighting for position with Red Bull's Kasey Kahne, who also ended up against the wall.

The race had to be red-flagged for nearly 25 minutes to clean up the debris, while both drivers were able to emerge unhurt from the impact.

Results - 500 laps:

Pos  Driver              Team/Car                         Time/Gap
 1.  Kevin Harvick       Childress Chevrolet          3h32m41.000s
 2.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Hendrick Chevrolet               + 0.727s
 3.  Kyle Busch          Gibbs Toyota                     + 0.741s
 4.  Juan Pablo Montoya  Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet      + 2.370s
 5.  Jeff Gordon         Hendrick Chevrolet               + 3.214s
 6.  Matt Kenseth        Roush Fenway Ford                + 3.503s
 7.  Jamie McMurray      Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet      + 4.832s
 8.  David Ragan         Roush Fenway Ford                + 5.507s
 9.  Clint Bowyer        Childress Chevrolet              + 6.036s
10.  Mark Martin         Hendrick Chevrolet               + 6.251s
11.  Jimmie Johnson      Hendrick Chevrolet               + 6.918s
12.  Denny Hamlin        Gibbs Toyota                     + 9.717s
13.  Joey Logano         Gibbs Toyota                      + 1 lap
14.  AJ Allmendinger     Petty Ford                        + 1 lap
15.  David Reutimann     Waltrip Toyota                    + 1 lap
16.  Kurt Busch          Penske Dodge                      + 1 lap
17.  Brian Vickers       Red Bull Toyota                   + 1 lap
18.  Carl Edwards        Roush Fenway Ford                 + 1 lap
19.  Brad Keselowski     Penske Dodge                     + 2 laps
20.  Ryan Newman         Stewart Haas Chevrolet           + 2 laps
21.  Greg Biffle         Roush Fenway Ford                + 2 laps
22.  Ken Schrader        FAS Lane Ford                    + 3 laps
23.  Robby Gordon        Gordon Dodge                     + 3 laps
24.  Jeff Burton         Childress Chevrolet              + 5 laps
25.  Tony Raines         Front Row Ford                   + 7 laps
26.  Landon Cassill      Phoenix Chevrolet                + 7 laps
27.  Bobby Labonte       JTG Daugherty Toyota            + 11 laps
28.  Hermie Sadler       TRG Chevrolet                   + 12 laps
29.  Marcos Ambrose      Petty Ford                      + 13 laps
30.  Dave Blaney         Baldwin Chevrolet               + 14 laps
31.  Regan Smith         Furniture Row Chevrolet         + 24 laps
32.  Michael McDowell    HP Toyota                       + 30 laps
33.  David Gilliland     Front Row Ford                  + 32 laps
34.  Tony Stewart        Stewart Haas Chevrolet          + 38 laps
35.  Trevor Bayne        Wood Brothers Ford              + 40 laps
36.  Casey Mears         Germain Toyota                  + 43 laps

Retirements:

     Travis Kvapil       Front Row Ford                   443 laps
     Paul Menard         Childress Chevrolet              261 laps
     Kasey Kahne         Red Bull Toyota                  219 laps
     Martin Truex Jr     Waltrip Toyota                   219 laps
     JJ Yeley            Whitney Chevrolet                 33 laps
     Mike Skinner        Germain Toyota                    31 laps
     Joe Nemechek        NEMCO Toyota                      25 laps
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