- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The devilish grin was one we've seen many times, only this one seemed to pack a little extra punch as Kevin Harvick celebrated Sunday's Sprint Cup victory at Talladega Superspeedway.
Sure he was happy to have snookered Jamie McMurray coming off the final turn to win NASCAR's first triple green-white-checkered finish by 0.011 of a second in a race that featured a series record 29 different leaders and a series record 88 lead changes.
He was even happier to be in Victory Lane for the first time since the 2007 Daytona 500, a winless streak of 115 races.
But the thing that made him the happiest?
In case you missed it, sponsor Shell/Pennzoil announced earlier in the week it was leaving Harvick and Richard Childress Racing for Kurt Busch and Penske Racing in 2011. Amidst this was a media report in which sources said Harvick burned his bridges with RCR and wasn't likely to return when his contract expired after this season.
Harvick wasn't happy about either story on Friday.
"It's great karma with everything that has happened this week with the sponsor and everything," Harvick said. "It's kind of funny in itself. All in all this is really good for our team, good for all the [RCR] cars that have been running well all year. We've been really close to winning races.
"But the karma part is the best part."
Team owner Richard Childress had a similar devilish grin as he celebrated like this was his first victory.
"It's sweet," he said after RCR ended a 49-race losing streak. "Sweet. Very sweet."
It also was big. As the Gatorade-drenched fan in Victory Lane said as he embraced Childress, "This sport wouldn't be what it is if it wasn't for you."
Childress was the sport's standard-bearer before Rick Hendrick began dominating in the mid-1990s. Childress won six titles between 1986 and 1994 with Dale Earnhardt in the famed No. 3.
But lately Childress has been in survival mode. He dropped from four to three cars this season due to lack of sponsorship. Before the race, several other owners expressed concern whether an organization of RCR's stature could stay at three cars with the loss of Shell/Pennzoil and possibly Harvick.
"We have a really good organization and good race cars," Childress insisted. "We just got really behind."
But things are looking up. It's looking more and more like Harvick might stay with RCR if solid sponsorship is found. It's looking more and more like Harvick might be happy staying, something few thought possible a year ago, when there were reports he might ask out of his deal.
Days like Sunday increase the odds he'll be back.
"Oh, yeah," Childress said. "We've been talking."
The talk before the race had more to do with strategy than the future. Harvick told Childress he wanted to be in second or third going into the final lap, that he didn't believe the person in front would be able to maintain his position thanks to the return of side-drafting with the spoiler.
Harvick practiced what turned out to be the winning move on Friday, the only track time drivers had because severe weather canceled everything on Saturday.
As Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin said, everything worked out perfectly.
"I wish we had it on paper, everything that we talked about, because I don't think it could have happened more picture perfect," Martin said.
Harvick hung back most of the day, recalling wrecks that left him 20th or worse in the last five races on this 2.66-mile track. Everything, from when pit stops fell to taking four tires to being in the right spot on the third green-white-checkered finish happened exactly as he wanted and needed.
He started third on the inside lane behind McMurray on the third restart and the two were able to push their way well ahead of the field. He stayed locked on McMurray's bumper until the final turn, understanding the side draft would allow him to clear the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi car and hold that lead for several hundred yards before the cars would return to even.
"He moved to the right, I moved to the left and that was it," Harvick said.
For the record, replays showed Harvick didn't go below the dreaded yellow line at the bottom of the track until he crossed the finish line, although McMurray's minority owner thought otherwise.
"He was definitely below the yellow line," Felix Sabates said. "That's just pure B.S. It's just B.S."
McMurray, who had won the last two restrictor-plate races at Daytona and Talladega, was more upset with himself for going right. He explained to Harvick as they crossed paths in the media center that it took everything he had not to turn back into him, which really would have pushed the yellow line into play.
"I really thought Kevin was going to go high," McMurray said. "I felt like I was close enough to the yellow line that there was a lot more racetrack to the right, and it seemed like you could stall guys out more on the outside than you could the inside.
"I was really guarding against the outside."
Harvick was just waiting for McMurray to make a move. One direction or the other, he felt he had what it took to get around him.
"It just worked out absolutely perfect on the timing side," Harvick said.
Harvick lost the Daytona 500 to McMurray because of two green-white-checkered finishes.
"Yeah, I remember Gil being kind of down in the dumps and telling [NASCAR president] Mike Helton the rule sucks," said Harvick, who was leading before the first restart at Daytona. "Mike patted him on the back, said, 'It'll all come full circle.'"
In other words, what comes around goes around. This one was made sweeter because it was Harvick's first race after his sponsor announced it was bolting for supposedly greener pastures because Roger Penske was able to promise a global deal that included his IndyCar Series teams and dealerships.
Harvick's smile had almost a "take that" sign for Shell and members of the media he scolded for using sources that he deemed inaccurate.
"It worked out perfect," Harvick said, again smiling before rushing out to drive in the Nationwide race. "You couldn't have scripted it any better."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.