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Race: Harvick christens track with win

Kevin Harvick dominated Sunday's inaugural Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway to earn his second NASCAR Winston Cup victory in his rookie season.

Harvick, who took over the Goodwrench Chevrolet after Dale Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the February 18 Daytona 500 and also won at Atlanta in March, led the race five times for 113 laps.

"These guys did a heck of a job in the pits, they had a great strategy," said Harvick. "The last restart with under 10 [laps] to go is pretty nerve-racking. This was awesome.

"This year is all about Dale Earnhardt and winning races for him. This win means a lot. When you are stuck on your first win, everybody says he's a flash in the pan. This should prove that we are for real. I like this place, it reminds me a lot of Texas. I like these 1.5-mile tracks," he added.

Harvick defeated Robert Pressley by 0.649secs to claim the victory on the new track, located south of Chicago.

"We were real close today," said Pressley, who scored the highest finish of his career. "We've had some good race cars the last couple of years, but never could finish the day. As long as we can stay out there and run we'll get us a win or some more top fives. This deal is tougher than anyone else can imagine.

"The guys in the pits did a great job and when we got within 60 or 70 laps, we decided to go the rest of the way on fuel."

Jeff Gordon suffered his second engine failure of the year and is now tied with Dale Jarrett with 2,515 points. By virtue of more second-place finishes, Gordon is listed as the Winston Cup leader.

"Shoot, I'm just thrilled to be tied," said Gordon. "We've outrun them on the race track, but it doesn't matter if you don't get there at the end. We have to figure this out and make sure it doesn't happen any more."

Ricky Rudd was third followed by Richard Childress team mate Dale Jarrett and Jimmy Spencer.

"What made the difference for us is we elected to put on four tyres," said Rudd. "For our car, we started to get the tyres dialed-in at the end and that was the key for us getting third rather than 11th or 12th."

A sell-out crowd of 75,000 fans filled the new Chicagoland Speedway for NASCAR's first race in the Chicago area since Fireball Roberts won at Soldier Field in 1956. When the green flag waved, pole-winner Todd Bodine drove away from the field along with Rudd and Harvick.

The first of 10 caution flags waved on lap 23 when Mike Skinner blew a tyre and hit the first turn wall very hard. His car caught fire before safety workers were able to extinguish the flames. Skinner has a possible fracture of his left ankle and was transported to an area hospital for X-rays.

Harvick took the lead when he passed Rudd one lap after the restart on lap 32. He stayed in front for the next 11 laps before NASCAR waved a mandatory caution flag so teams could check tyre wear on the new oval.

Mark Martin, Johnny Benson Jr. and Jimmy Spencer traded the lead through the first half of the race.

Steve Park hit the wall in the third turn on lap 136 to bring about another caution and, after the leaders pitted, Harvick was back in front and began his domination. Another caution flag waved on lap 187 when Buckshot Jones crashed in the second turn. He was taken to hospital by ambulance for observation.

Joe Nemechek was the leader when the green flag waved on lap 196 followed by Harvick. Two laps later, Todd Bodine spun to bring out another yellow flag. The green waved on lap 201 with Nemechek in front of Harvick. Four laps later, Harvick was back in the lead.

After another caution on 227, the leaders pitted for the final time with Mark Martin the first out of the pits and Harvick in sixth. The 25-year-old from Bakersfield, California didn't stay there long as he passed Kurt Busch for third on lap 238, Pressley for second one lap later and took the lead from Martin at the start/finish line on lap 242.

He stayed there for the remainder of the race, including a five-lap shoot-out at the end after Tony Stewart crashed, to score the second win of his career.

"Kevin did a super job, he got up there and got the job done," team owner Richard Childress said. "It was a great job, he did a great job all day and the pit crew was on."

Harvick celebrated the victory by driving around the track the opposite direction followed by a few spins and a long burnout.

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