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Cupcake? Not anymore; Kevin Harvick is now The Closer

From The Marbles

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When you're leading a race with the laps dwindling down, you don't want to see Kevin Harvick in your rear-view mirror. Chances are, you'll be watching him through your windshield soon enough.

On Sunday at the Goody's 500 at Martinsville, Harvick added another chapter to the routine that's fast becoming his trademark: the key last-second stretch run that puts him in front of the pack to stay. This time, he disrupted what would have been the best story of the year in a potential Dale Earnhardt Jr. win. But if you think sentiment ever entered into the equation, you don't know Harvick.

He's is the living embodiment of the old NASCAR truism that the only lap it's important to lead is the last one. Over the last two races, he's led a total of five laps, for about 2 1/2 miles, and yet he's got two wins to his credit. That's some pretty darn efficient racing there.

Sunday, Harvick had to work his way around Kyle Busch to get to second, and then again around Earnhardt as the laps wound down. Harvick did so by challenging again and again for the low line, the far faster route all day long.

"Keep at him, he'll make a mistake," Harvick's crew chief Gil Martin said as Harvick reeled in Earnhardt. And Earnhardt did too, getting ever-so-slightly loose in Turn 2 and allowing Harvick room to pass with just four laps remaining. And as lapped traffic got into the mix, Earnhardt's hope of snapping his long winless streak vanished into the distance along with the black No. 29.

The last-second victory-grab has become something of a tradition for Harvick, lurking long and winning late. He did it last year at Talladega, taking the race from Jamie McMurray by a bumper's length, and he did it at Daytona in 2007, too.

And as much of a living connection to NASCAR history as Harvick is, he doesn't let sympathy get in the way. He kept the legendary Mark Martin from winning at Daytona, and on Sunday, he slammed the door on Earnhardt, whose much-maligned losing streak now stands at 99 races, with only lip service toward the meaning of the moment.

"I hate to be the bad guy," Harvick said after the race, "but we're here to win it."

Harvick thus joins Mariano Rivera, Kyra Sedgwick and The Wolf from "Pulp Fiction" as masterful closers. At this point, we're not counting him out of the Sprint Cup hunt until the trophy gets handed out in Las Vegas, and maybe not even then. You never know.

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