Martinsville, Va. — Kevin Harvick has picked his way through traffic before at Martinsville Speedway, never when the stakes were so high.
A poor qualifying effort has Harvick starting 33rd, behind all the other title contenders, in Sunday’s race on the Virginia short track. Because the rest of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field is starting in the top 13, Harvick won’t have much time to avoid being lapped.
His Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was considerably faster on Saturday — he was fastest in the final practice of the weekend — so crew chief Rodney Childers didn’t seem too concerned about race day.
“Just gotta roll with it at this point,” said Childers. “In the spring we went back to 30th three different times and drove back to the top-five like it wasn’t nothing, so you’ve just got to have a good car and drive up there.”
There’s no margin for error as the third round of the Chase begins Sunday. There are eight drivers remaining from a field that started with 16 but has gone through two rounds of cuts after every three races.
Now the Chase hits the critical stretch — races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix — and winners earn an automatic berth into the finale. NASCAR will crown the champion on Nov. 16 at Homestead, where the final four will race for the title. The winner will be the highest finisher of the four eligible drivers.
It will take either victories or consistency to make it to Homestead, and Harvick will have to hustle on Sunday. Although he drove from 36th to third in 2010, this marks just the seventh time in 27 career starts he has started outside the top 20 at Martinsville.
Qualifying had really been a strong point for the No. 4 team all season, too, as fast cars had led Harvick to a series-best eight poles.
But Childers said he was off Friday with the car, and sent Harvick out too early in the first round of qualifying.
“I just screwed up. I thought maybe the track would be good early, and it was horrible,” Childers said. On Harvick’s second attempt, he hit the wall, but Childers said the car sustained minimal damage.
Harvick won at Martinsville in April 2011 and has driven from the back of the field at various times. Still, in 131 Cup races at Martinsville, drivers who have started outside the top 20 have won just six times. Kurt Busch won in March from 22nd, and only one Martinsville winner has ever started worse than 24th.
Childers said they’ll be patient.
“It’s not that big a deal unless something stupid happens on the race track or something stupid happens on pit road,” Childers said. “If you’ve got a car that’s just as good as the leader you don’t have to worry about (being lapped). They’ve got the same traffic to go through that you’ve got to go through, so it all comes down to getting the car right (in practice) and you won’t have any of that to worry about.”
Darrell Wallace Jr. wins
Darrell Wallace Jr. made a tribute to the late Wendell Scott with a truck painted and numbered for the Hall of Fame inductee.
Then he drove it to Victory Lane.
Wallace’s win at Martinsville Speedway came a year after he became the first black driver to win a national NASCAR race since Scott in 1963. Kyle Busch Motorsports changed the number of Wallace’s Toyota truck from No. 54 to No. 34 to honor Scott, the NASCAR pioneer who will be posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January.
“It means a lot, I know I had a guardian angel looking over me this weekend,” Wallace said. “To be able to put (the truck) in Victory Lane, you couldn’t ask for a better weekend. You thought last year was special, but this definitely beats it.”
Wallace led a race-high 97 laps in winning his third race of the season. The victory cut Wallace’s deficit in the Truck Series point standings to Matt Crafton to 22 with four races remaining.
Timothy Peters finished second, followed by Crafton, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.
Wallace grabbed the lead from Johnny Sauter in heavy traffic 12 laps from the finish, but before the record 11th caution slowed the race.
He then pulled away after a restart with six laps left and beat Peters to the finish line by .495 seconds. Peters had bumped Sauter out of the way in the closing laps.
“I wasn’t worried about anybody, honestly,” Wallace said. “They kept telling me where everybody was, and I said I didn’t care. It’s our weekend and we’re going to come out and take this (grandfather) clock (trophy) home with us and we just did that.
“The whole Wendell Scott family is here and this is a special moment, just a perfect weekend for us. It’s a true honor to have Wendell Scott on our Toyota Tundra and to be able to put it in Victory Lane. I know he (Scott) just said up there, ‘Hell yeah.’ This is cool.”
Rally of Spain
Sebastian Ogier inched closer to his second straight rally world title, staying ahead of teammate and nearest chaser Jari-Matti Latvala to maintain his lead of the Rally of Spain .
The Frenchman saw Latvala chip his lead down to 27 seconds as both steered their Volkswagen Polos through the six asphalt stages. Ogier will defend his crown if he stays in front through Sunday’s final four stages.
Mikko Hirvonen was third in a Ford Fiesta at 1 minute, 18 seconds off Ogier’s lead.
Ogier said “the plan was to control (Latvala) from the front. He was flying, but my plan was to have a 20-second lead tonight and we have more than that so it’s good.”