For most of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Kevin Harvick has been known as "The Closer," as he often made his charge for the win late in a race.
However, he might garner another nickname after his sterling fourth win of the year. In this case, Harvick might as well be called "The Dominator," as he captured Saturday night's Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Leading 203 of the 400 laps at "The Action Track," the pride of Bakersfield, CA reminded his competitors and racing fans as to why he's one of the prime candidates for this year's Cup championship.
Consider the fact that he announced the closure of his Camping World Truck Series team, which certainly made his victory that much more gratifying.
"It’s really going to come down to who makes the least mistakes,” Harvick said per AP Sports Writer Jenna Fryer's article. "There are a lot of cars that can win.
"A lot of cars that can be competitive. It’s going to be who makes the least amount of mistakes and capitalizes the most on the days that you are off."
Harvick hadn't scored a top-five finish since June, which caused some tension in the Richard Childress Racing shop, especially with the No. 29 Budweiser Chevy team.
Still, they overcame those problems, paving the way to a tie atop the points standings heading into the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup title.
About the only other racer who had a shot at beating Harvick on Saturday night was runner-up Carl Edwards, who led for 113 laps in his No. 99 Kellogg's/Aflac Ford Fusion.
After capturing his third consecutive top-10 finish, Edwards was somewhat disappointed at coming up short for the checkered flag.
"That was a tough race not to win," Edwards said. "I felt like we had the car to beat, and if we had another lap or two, we would have been all up all over Harvick there."
Meanwhile, third-place finisher and Atlanta race winner Jeff Gordon was content with his performance, as he felt like he and his team were turning the corner for a championship.
"I feel like we’ve got more momentum going into the Chase. I feel like our team is really, really strong," Gordon said. "We’ve got an awesome race team right now. I’m extremely excited."
Gordon found himself in position to capture back-to-back wins, leading with less than 25 laps to go befroe a caution for Paul Menard's car prompted for a late-race restart. Battling with a car that struggled on restarts, the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger/DuPont Chevy had to settle for a podium finish.
Heading into the race, the focus was on the "bubble racers" who were battling for the final four Chase seeds, which included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin.
The opportunity was there for one-time race winners like Paul Menard, Marcos Ambrose, and David Ragan to perhaps "steal" a wild card spot, but the top-12 remained the same.
That was partly caused by an early crash which swept up Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevy, which suffered front end damage.
Still, the Kannapolis, NC native still nabbed a Chase spot while Stewart completely assured himself a seed by placing seventh in the race.
Perhaps the biggest story of the night was the feud between Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, whose one-year rivalry appeared to hit a climax with an incident halfway in the race.
Johnson, who tangled with Kurt Busch early in the event, tried to exact revenge against his rival racer, but instead, spun himself and the Las Vegas native into the turn one corner.
Busch recovered to place fifth while the five-time Cup champ dealt with a crash damaged No. 48 Lowe's Pride of America Chevy to a 31st finishing position.
Even after getting a top-five, Busch said, "He’s (Johnson's) been able to beat guys the last five years just by out-driving them with what he has for equipment. If he wants to switch equipment, let’s see what he can do."
Rounding out the top-10 finishers for Saturday night's Wonderful Pistachios 400 were David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Mark Martin.
Chicagoland Speedway plays host to next Sunday's GEICO 400 (Live at 2 PM EDT on ESPN), where David Reutimann looks to defend his victory last season with a much needed triumph in 2011.
It also marks the start of the Chase, counting down to the last 10 races of the year before the season champion is crowned.
Here's a look at the top-12 points standings heading into Chicagoland, with drivers' team, manufacturer, and wins (if applicable) listed in parenthesis:
- Kyle Busch (Gibbs/Toyota/4 wins)
- Kevin Harvick (Childress/Chevy/4 wins)
- Jeff Gordon (Hendrick/Chevy/3 wins)
- Matt Kenseth (Roush-Fenway/Ford/2 wins)
- Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway/Ford/1 win)
- Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick/Chevy/1 win)
- Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
- Kurt Busch (Penske/Dodge/1 win)
- Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas/Chevy)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick/Chevy)
- Brad Keselowski (Penske/Dodge/3 wins)
- Denny Hamlin (Gibbs/Toyota/1 win)
[Associated Press via Yahoo! Sports]