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Rookie repeats his feat

Kevin Harvick's second career victory came as no surprise to team owner Richard Childress, the man who picked the youngster to replace superstar Dale Earnhardt.

"I've been telling people right along that Kevin Harvick is the real deal," Childress said Sunday after the rookie won the inaugural Tropicana 400 at the new Chicagoland Speedway.

"I think today answers any questions about his driving ability."

Harvick, 25, was elevated to a full-time ride in Winston Cup a year ahead of schedule after Earnhardt's death in the Daytona 500.

Harvick was praised for his emotional, photo-finish victory in Atlanta three races later, but this one was a dominating vindication for him and the rest of his Richard Childress Racing team.

After celebrating for the sellout crowd of 85,000 with some doughnuts and a long, smoky burnout in front of the grandstand, Harvick scrambled from his white No. 29 Chevrolet and began to celebrate with Childress and his crew.

"This means a lot," Harvick said. "When you're stuck on your first win, everybody says, "He's a flash in the pan.' Well, here's our second win now."

Harvick, also running a full schedule in Busch Grand National, where he is leading the points, ran strong throughout Sunday's 267-lap race on the 1{-mile, D-shaped tri-oval. He took the lead for good on Lap 242, passing Mark Martin, and led 113 laps.

The aftermath of the Atlanta was almost entirely a tribute to Earnhardt. This one was more about Harvick, crew chief Kevin Hamlin and his crew. Still, the Intimidator wasn't far from anyone's mind.

"Everything we do this year is in memory of Dale Earnhardt," Harvick said. "He is the reason we're racing in both series and we want to do everything we can for him. I'm sure Dale Earnhardt would be very proud of us right now."

The racing groove was narrow and cars that ventured off that area often paid a price. There were nine caution flags and two injured drivers.

Mike Skinner, Harvick's teammate, cut a tire and slammed into the wall at close to 180 mph. He was knocked unconscious for a few moments, but was awake and alert when removed from the car.

Skinner, who also crashed Friday in practice, was limping and was helped to the ambulance by two safety workers.

He was transported by ambulance to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with a mild concussion and a fractured left ankle before being released.

Later, Jerry Nadeau lost an oil line and Roy "Buckshot" Jones slid through the oil and hit the wall hard. Jones was examined for pain in his left knee and took fluids for dehydration on the hot, humid afternoon. He was later released from the track's infield medical center.

The final caution flag flew on Lap 258 when Tony Stewart slowed and was tapped from behind by Sterling Marlin. Stewart, who had been eighth, spun and hit the wall. He was not injured, but the caution bunched the field for a restart five laps from the end and gave runner-up Robert Pressley one last shot at Harvick.

Pressley, whose best previous finish was third this year in Texas, tried to psyche out the rookie leader, driving right up on his rear bumper several times before the green flag came out for the start of Lap 263.

"I wanted to just shake him up a little bit and maybe make him run a little wide in Turn 1," Pressley said. "I thought if I could get my nose under him, I might be able to get by him. I just wanted to rattle his cage."

Harvick called the experience "nerve-wracking."

"I knew we had the car to win it and I just tried to keep it smooth and not do anything stupid," Harvick said.

It was no contest, with Pressley more concerned about keeping Ricky Rudd behind him than pushing Harvick, who won by 0.649 seconds over Pressley's Ford. Rudd was third, followed by Dale Jarrett, Jimmy Spencer, Martin, Matt Kenseth and rookie Kurt Busch, all in Fords.

Marlin and Bill Elliott were ninth and 10th in Dodges.

Todd Bodine, who earned his second career pole and first in five years, led the first six laps then quickly fell out of contention.

He spun twice but hung on to finish on the lead lap in 14th.

"We had a good car but it went bad," Bodine said. "The car was swapping around. We're doing something wrong with our shocks and we haven't quite figured it out. Our car got worse and worse."

GEARHEAD STATS

AVERAGE SPEED: 121.200 mph.

TIME OF RACE: 3 hours, 18 minutes, 16 seconds.

MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.649 seconds.

CAUTION FLAGS: 10 for 56 laps.

LEAD CHANGES: 14 among 10 drivers.

LAP LEADERS: T.Bodine 1-6; Rudd 7-31; Harvick 32-42; Martin 43-50; Benson 51-53; Spencer 54-103; Harvick 104; B.Labonte 105-106; Sadler 107-108; Nadeau 109-137; Harvick 138-187; Nemechek 188-204; Harvick 205-229; Martin 230-241; Harvick 242-267.

Up next

New England 300, New Hampshire International Speedway, Loudon, 2 p.m. Sunday, TNT.

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