Johnson City Press Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Sports Jeff Birchfield NASCAR/Racing

Harvick has become elite driver

April 15th, 2014 8:15 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Harvick has become elite driver

Kevin Harvick should be included on any list of the top dozen drivers in NASCAR.

With his win in last Saturday’s Southern 500, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet joined fellow Californians Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as the only active drivers to win the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500.

If you expand that list to all drivers, the only other one to accomplish the feat is Dale Earnhardt. The list doesn’t include Dale Jarrett, a three-time Darlington winner who never won the Southern 500, or Bill Elliott, a two-time Charlotte winner who never won the Coke 600.

However, Harvick has been like Jarrett and Elliott in the sense that he is a driver who seems to rise to the occasion at the sport’s biggest events. He now has 25 official Sprint Cup Series wins and is also a former winner of the Sprint All-Star Race, and a three-time winner of the Sprint Unlimited (formerly Budweiser Shootout). In addition, he’s also a former Nationwide Series champion and a champion of the old IROC (International Race of Champions) Series. 

Really, the only big prizes missing from the 38-year-old driver’s stock car racing resume are a Sprint Cup Series championship and a win in the Bristol night race.

Harvick certainly has a shot at winning a championship this season. The win at Darlington was his second of the first eight races and ensured him a berth in the Chase for the Championship playoffs.

While he doesn’t have a win in the Bristol night race, Harvick has experienced plenty of success at the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” He is a former winner of the Food City 500 and also has five Bristol wins in the Nationwide Series and one win in the Camping World Truck Series. 

The biggest knock on Harvick has been inconsistency, especially when he’s compared to drivers like Johnson, Gordon or Matt Kenseth. His 13 years at Richard Childress Racing featured six top-five finishes in the final Cup Series point standings. However, he finished 14th or worse in the the standings four times. It included 2009, when he posted only nine top-10 finishes in 36 races and failed to win a race for a second straight year.

Since then, Harvick has been one of the sport’s most prolific winners. He has won 14 Sprint Cup races since the start of the 2010 season, with his numbers only bettered by Johnson (19 wins) and Denny Hamlin (15). 

Harvick has actually won one more race than Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth over that timeframe. Yet, he is rarely talked about as one of the sport’s elite drivers.

There are six active champions who still race full-time. They are six-time champion Johnson, four-time champion Gordon, three-time champion Tony Stewart, and single title-holders Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kenseth.

Beyond them, the numbers show Harvick as one of the best along with guys like Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Hamlin.

Another underrated driver this season has been rookie Austin Dillon in Harvick’s old ride at Richard Childress Racing. Although fellow rookie Kyle Larson has been more spectacular, Dillon has been solid. 

The driver of the black No. 3 Chevrolet currently ranks 10th in the points, and his average finish has been inside the top 15. He has three finishes of 11th at Bristol, California and Darlington after winning the pole and winding up ninth at the Daytona 500.

The NASCAR teams take this week off for the traditional Easter weekend break before heading to Richmond next weekend.

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Jensen Ford of Piney Flats won for the second time this season in the Crate Late Model division last Saturday night at Volunteer Speedway. The 2006 Science Hill graduate never faced a serious challenge over the 25-lap race.

Jerry Broyles of Jonesborough finished fifth.

“Newport Nightmare” Jimmy Owen passed five-time Volunteer Speedway track champion Vic “The Thrill” Hill of Greeneville to win the “Mad Dawg 60” feature for the Super Late Models. The race, which was scheduled to go head-to-head with a “World of Outlaws” sanctioned race at Tazewell Speedway, drew 19 drivers.

In other Volunteer Speedway races, Jason Welshan of Maryville won a 30-lap feature for the Steel Head Late Models, and Dale Reed of Whitesburg won the Modified Hobby feature.

The third annual Walter Ball Memorial race is scheduled this Saturday night with feature races for the Crate Late Model, Steel Head Late Model and Modified Hobby divisions.

The night of action honors the memory of the Johnson City racer who won over 400 races during his legendary career. Ball won an incredible 19 races in 21 starts to win the 1977 track championship. 

Ball is also the father of five-time track champion Dale Ball, who won the first of two Crate Late Model features at the first Walter Ball Memorial race in 2012.

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Chad Finchum didn’t let his tangle with fellow teenager Blake Jones at the Kingsport Speedway season opener slow him down.

The 19-year-old Knoxville driver swept Late Model Stock features last Friday night at Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va., as Kingsport Speedway took the week off. Kres Van Dyke, the winner of the Kingsport opener, finished second in the first race, and defending Lonesome Pine champion Ryan Stiltner was runner-up in the second race.

The drivers and teams are scheduled to return to Kingsport this Friday night with a six-division program scheduled for the NASCAR All-American Weekly Series. 

Racing is also scheduled the following night at Lonesome Pine.

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Scotty Johnson of Roan Mountain won Sunday’s Super Pro race for the DER Bracket Series at Bristol Dragway.

Johnson had a solid reaction time of .020 and matched his dial-in with an elapsed time of 6.02 seconds (113.56) to win the final over Virginia driver Matt Hicks.

Johnson wasn’t the only Roan Mountain resident to celebrate over the weekend. Garrett Freeman won the Junior Dragster, Division 2 race on Saturday.

Two Elizabethton drivers — Candis Bise in Trophy and Carl Widener in Sportsman — also scored Saturday wins.

Ethan Ford of Jonesborough was victorious in Junior Dragster, Division 1, while Josh Reece, also of Jonesborough, was the runner-up in the Motorcycle class.

Other Saturday winners were: Denver Maltba of Newland, N.C., in Super Pro, Tim Griffith of Cedar Bluff, Va., in Pro and Van Greer of Kingsport in Motorcycle.

Mark Crowe of Butler won Sunday’s trophy final, while Jerry Turner of Bluff City defeated Greer in the Motorcycle final. Other Sunday winners included: Richard Newman of Rogersville in Pro, Brian Dunningham of Mooresburg in Sportsman, Kaden Haynes of Mt. Carmel in Junior Dragster, Division 1 and Devin Kiser of Corryton in Division 2.

The DER Bracket Series is slated to return to action May 2-4. 

Bristol Dragway is currently hosting the K&N Spring Fling 5-Day event. There is a $15,000-to-win race scheduled for tonight, three $20,000-to-win races on Thursday through Saturday and another $15,000-to-win race on Sunday.  

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Peyton Wells of Johnson City finished first and second in 250B motos to win the overall title at Round 4 of the Thor Mega Series at Muddy Creek Raceway on Sunday.

Wells was also runner-up to Logan McConnell of Kingpsort in the 450B race.

Jacob Austin of Jonesborough was the winner of the 2-Stroke Amateur division after fellow Jonesborough rider Alex Dorton won the first moto. Austin also won an extra race for the 250C class.

Bobby Mashburn of Jonesborough won a race for 60+ riders, while South Carolina rider Kyle Bitterman swept races in the 250 and 450 Pro classes.

It is the last major event scheduled for Muddy Creek before the AMA Lucas Oil Tennessee Nationals on June 28.

Many of the local riders will now compete in the Hot Summer Nights Series which begins at the Appalachian Fairgrounds this Saturday.

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