published Monday, April 4th, 2011

Harvick surge edges Junior Late pass leads to Martinsville win

MARTINSVILLE, Va.—Kevin Harvick overcame an ill-handling car to charge to the front, pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead and hold on to win Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Earnhardt had taken over the lead with 20 laps to go with a pass of Kyle Busch that brought everyone in the grandstands to their feet. But Harvick closed quickly, pulled onto Earnhardt’s bumper with four laps to go, and made his pass in the second turn.

Earnhardt tried to get the lead back, but conceded as they rounded the fourth turn. Harvick then sailed away for his second consecutive victory.

He also made a late charge last week to beat Busch and Jimmie Johnson at California.

“I hate to be the bad guy here, but winning’s winning,” Harvick said in Victory Lane of denying NASCAR’s most popular driver the win.

Earnhardt had to fight hard to hold off Busch for second, and his losing streak stretched to 99 races. He’s not won since Michigan in June 2008, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.

“I am frustrated. I got close,” Earnhardt said. “I ain’t won in a long time. I was thinking at the end I was meant to win the race.”

Busch led a race-high 151 laps, but was bumped from the lead by Earnhardt. It’s the second consecutive Sprint Cup race he’s dominated, only to fade to third.

And it’s the second race he could have won this weekend at Martinsville, but didn’t. Busch finished second Saturday to Johnny Sauter in the Trucks Series race.

Busch, who took over the points lead despite coming up short of the win, said Earnhardt was in bounds with the bump for the lead.

“I was holding him up, so it was good for him,” Busch said. “I mean, he took the lead. No harm, no foul. I probably had the best car here today. Unfortunately just didn’t win with it.”

Earnhardt, meanwhile, jumped four spots to eighth in the standings — the highest he’s been since Texas a year ago — and battled the conflicting emotions of being disappointed at falling short and celebrating another strong run.

“I’ll probably think about it a million times what I probably could have done differently,” he said. “If I know what’s best for me, I should probably have a good attitude about what happened today and probably go into the next race and use it as momentum and confidence, like any other good driver would do, instead of worrying about, you know, how close we came.”

Harvick, meanwhile, snapped the dominating run of Johnson and Denny Hamlin, who had combined to win the last nine races at Martinsville. Even though both were in the mix for the win, late-race issues took them out of contention.

Hamlin, the winner of the last three races at the short track, had slow pit stops and his team brought him in early during green-flag stops in an attempt to use strategy to win the race. It backfired and he finished 12th.

Johnson had a shot at winning until he was penalized for speeding onto pit road during yellow-flag pit stops, dropping him to 11th with 29 laps remaining. That’s where he finished.

Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth, followed by Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, who rallied from an early penalty that dropped him a lap down. Pole-sitter Jamie McMurray finished eighth, and David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin rounded out the top 10.

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