Like many NASCAR fans, I was devastated when Dale Earnhardt died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. The sport just wasn’t the same without him. It still isn’t.
Exactly three races later, we were taken on another roller coaster ride of emotion. And for my money, it was the best moment of the season, even better than Dale Jr.’s win at the Pepsi 400 in July.
The final 15 laps of the ’01 Cracker Barrel 500 were about as good as it gets. And of the five drivers fighting for the win, the most unlikely of the bunch beat Jeff Gordon to the line by mere inches. Of course I’m talking about Kevin Harvick.
I remember crying when Harvick won that race. I remember Richard Childress crying on pit road. I remember Mike Joy getting choked up in the broadcast booth. The emotions were still just so raw. After all, it had only been three weeks since Earnhardt’s passing.
On top of that, it was the way Havick won, holding off Jeff Gordon the same way Earnhardt held off Bobby Labonte in the exact same race the previous year.
Occasionally I go back and watch those final 10-plus laps. I get emotional every time I watch it.
It’s amazing that as good as Harvick is at Atlanta, today was his first win at the track since that memorable day in 2001. And how fitting that his celebration included a throwback to that ’01 race when Harvick threw up the number three while taking a polish victory lap. Thank you Alan Kulwicki.
I won’t say Harvick’s dominating performance is a sign of things of things to come, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That team was a beast before switching to Ford. And now with a full year under their belt, the No. 4 team could return to the top of the heap.
Other Thoughts from Atlanta…
-What disadvantage? The Blue Oval Brigade is looking very strong through two races. For the past two years, it was Toyota’s time at the top. Now it may be Ford’s turn to take over.
-I liked Denny Hamlin’s strategy of making one less pit stop. Ultimately it did not work out, but someone had to try something outside the box to beat Harvick. So for that I give Hamlin and his crew chief Mike Wheeler a lot of credit for trying.
-I think Hendrick Motorsports should pretend like the first two races didn’t happen. A very rough start for that group.
-This won’t be a popular take, but it looks like the honeymoon is over for Bubba Wallace. I hope I’m wrong.
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