Harvick Breaks Through, Is Dale Jr. Next?

By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)

At Phoenix International Raceway, just a couple of weeks ago, Ryan Newman broke his 77-race winless streak. Newman of course was able to capitalize on a great restart on a green-white-checkered finish to seal the deal on his first victory since the 2008 Daytona 500.

Fast Forward to Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 at Talladega. Kevin Harvick came into this race riding a 115-race winless streak. Harvick’s last victory, was the 2007 Daytona 500. Earlier in the week it was announced that Harvick’s sponsor Shell/Pennzoil was leaving him at the end of the season to go to Penske Racing… Things were beginning to spiral out of control for Harvick.

That was until a thrilling last lap pass, in the most competitive race in NASCAR history. Harvick waited until the last possible opportunity to make his move on Jamie McMurray (the 2010 Daytona 500 winner), in a third green-white-checkered attempt. He was able to win by 0.012 of a second (the eighth closest finish since electronic scoring in 1993). Harvick commented on his race winning move following the race.

“coming into the last lap, that’s exactly how we planned it out on paper, and it’s hard to not pull out, but I could say that we were way in front of all the guys behind us with the push that I was able to give Jamie there,” Harvick said, “And when he made that dart to the right, I immediately went to the left.”

Harvick would have won the Daytona 500 this year, had not it been for the newly instituted green-white-checkered rule, so for Harvick the circumstances of his win Sunday were ironic.

“Yeah, I remember Gil being kind of down in the dumps and telling Mike Helton, he said, that rule sucks. Mike patted him on the back, and he said it’ll all come full circle. And today it’s all worked itself out and we were able to finish it off.”

So for whatever reason, whether it be the new spoiler, a new fire in their belly, pure coincidence, or whatever the case there is a trend happening in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series… In the past three weeks two talented drivers, have broken their long losing streaks… So my question is, who is next? In my opinion there are really two great candidates to be the next big streak buster this week.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season has been much improved over his horrid 2009 campaign. Not only did Earnhardt not win in 2009, but he didn’t even come remotely close to working his way into chase contention all season long.

Earnhardt came out in the 2010 Daytona 500 with a renewed vigor. He made a thrilling final restart, where he was able to pick off several positions on the final lap, but he came up just a little short with a second place finish. Earnhardt has been a staple in the chase standings ever since.

In Texas Earnhardt led 46 laps en route to an eighth-place finish. Had it not been for pit sequence issues, Jr. may have ended his winless streak right then and there. Earnhardt came back with a vengeance at Talladega this week. He only led eight laps on the day, but not many people were able to lead a substantial amount of laps throughout the day. Jr. would prove all day long that he was one of the best cars on the track. Earnhardt, however would be shuffled out of the draft late, and would go on to finish 13th, but there is no denying that he, and crew chief Lance McGrew are on the verge of finding victory lane. In fact he is the driver I see most likely ending his winless drought.

Earnhardt now enters Richmond, a place he has won three times in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, on a 66-race winless streak.

The other guy I believe will end his winless streak sooner, rather than later is Jeff Gordon. Gordon is currently on a losing streak of just over a season. His last victory came 38 races ago at Texas Motor Speedway in 2009. He has been very strong all season long, but unfortunate circumstances have shut him out of victory lane thus far in 2010. At Las Vegas Gordon led 219 of the 267 laps, and looked destined to go on to victory… but a late race caution changed everything for him. He took four tires, while other people took two tires, and he wouldn’t be able to recover.

Three weeks later in Martinsville, Jeff Gordon led 92 laps on the day. Denny Hamlin was the strongest car by far, but towards the end of the race Gordon found himself right in the catbird seat for the win… until things got crazy on the green-white-checkered finish. Matt Kenseth got into Gordon into turn-one, which resulted in the two champions got into a shoving match, this effectively took each of them out of the battle for the win.

Then at Texas last week Gordon was again the most dominant car. Gordon led 124 of the 334 laps on the day, before being caught up in a huge crash on the front stretch late in the event. Jeff Gordon has come so close, so many times already in 2010 to that elusive 83rd career Sprint Cup Series victory… One would have to think he is destined to capture it eventually.

This week Gordon enters a track (Richmond) where he has two career victories, but none since 2000. However Gordon has finished in the top-ten at Richmond in each of the last six races there. If Gordon comes up short this week, expect him to possibly end his streak at Darlington the next week. Gordon has an incredible seven career wins at Darlington Raceway, which is the most among active drivers.

Here are NSCS past winners that are looking to end lengthy losing streaks:

Robby Gordon, 230 races

Bobby Labonte, 225 races

Elliott Sadler, 200 races

Joe Nemechek, 177 races

Martin Truex Jr., 104 races

Juan Montoya, 101 races

Casey Mears, 97 races

Clint Bowyer, 71 races

Dale Earnhardt Jr., 66 races

Greg Biffle, 53 races

Jeff Burton, 50 races

Carl Edwards, 45 races

Matt Kenseth, 43 races

Jeff Gordon, 38 races

Author: Toby Christie

Toby is the Editor of TheFinalLap.com and Social Media Director of all things @TheFinalLap. He is the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly radio show and podcast, and he is the writer and co-host of the Racing Legends podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed the sport as a fan since 1993.

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