Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Harvick: 'This One's for Dale'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Harvick: 'This One's for Dale'

Article excerpt

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Kevin Harvick may never be the next Dale Earnhardt, but yesterday in front of 120,000 sun-splashed fans at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, he was close enough.

His photo-finish victory at the Cracker Barrel 500 was more than historic. It was therapeutic.

The pain that has followed the sport since Earnhardt's death on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18 was soothed, even if for only a moment, as Harvick turned his third career start -- all in relief of Earnhardt -- into a stirring three-inch victory over Jeff Gordon.

Race teams and fans that had shed a lifetime of tears in the last four weeks again wept openly as Harvick drove a victory lap around the 1.54-mile raceway while holding three fingers out the window to honor the car number of the former seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion.

It may have been Earnhardt's team, Earnhardt's crew, Earnhardt's car and perhaps some divine intervention by one of the sport's most-popular figures, but yesterday's win clearly belonged to Harvick.

"I don't know how you could have scripted this any better," Harvick said after establishing a NASCAR record for the shortest amount of time between a debut and a win. "All I can say is, this one's for Dale.

"I didn't expect to win my third time out. I didn't know who won. I called in [on the two-way radio] when I was on the backstretch and said, 'Who won?' I figured I at least got second, and that was pretty good. Then I took an extra lap after the race to get all the emotional stuff out of the way."

Harvick averaged 143.416 mph, and he earned $158,427. The official margin of victory was .006 of a second. A year ago, Earnhardt drove to what many felt was the closest win in Winston Cup history -- .010 seconds over Bobby Labonte -- at Atlanta in the same kind of side-by-side battle.

This one was even better.

Since Earnhardt's black paint scheme and No. 3 will not be used for the rest of the season, Harvick drove a white car with No. 29. He was in the middle of a five-car breakaway during the final 20 laps that also included Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. …

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