Harvick survives shootout for 1st Darlington win
DARLINGTON, South Carolina (AP) — Kevin Harvick took advantage of new tires to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. two laps from the end and win the longest race in the Darlington track’s 65-year NASCAR history on Saturday.
Having been among the drivers outgunned the previous night in the Nationwide Series race by a car on fresher rubber, Harvick used the same approach in the Sprint Cup event.
“I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race,” Harvick said. “It was a good tool in your bag to have there at the end.”
Harvick started from pole and had the most dominant car, but had to make it through a restart with 10 laps left and two tries at a green-white-checkered finish for added laps.
Earnhardt finished second, his best showing at the track where his late father won nine times. Jimmie Johnson was third, 2013 winner Matt Kenseth fourth and Greg Biffle fifth.
“It hurts a little bit to come this close,” Earnhardt said. “Running second’s great, but nobody’s really going to remember that.”
Harvick led 239 of the 374 laps, seven more than planned, and became the first two-time winner in the first eight races of the season. It also gave a bit of relief to those winners under the new 16-team Chase for the Sprint Cup championship that they wouldn’t have to jostle with 26 winners — there are 26 races before the final 10 playoff events — to try and make it in.
“It feels great,” Harvick said. “It’s allowed us with the way the points system is to go for wins and not have to worry about the bad weeks too much.”
Harvick had just three top-fives and six top-10 finishes in 17 career Darlington races before this. He had nit finished better than fifth in his past 10 tries.
He was cruising with 10 laps left when Joey Logano’s car leaked fluids on the track. Johnson and Earnhardt took just two tires in the pits and snuck out ahead of Harvick, who had taken four tires and restarted fifth.
Earnhardt quickly moved past Johnson for the lead until Denny Hamlin hit the wall for the 10th caution to set up the overtime finish.
Earnhardt was still out front on that restart when Clint Bowyer got too close to Kurt Busch and spun him out — Busch made sure to walk up the track and stare down Bowyer — to force a second green-white-checkered finish.
This time, Harvick and his fresher tires easily got past Earnhardt and drove on to his second win since joining Stewart-Haas Racing this offseason, adding Darlington to his win in Phoenix this year.
Kyle Busch was sixth and Jeff Gordon, the points leader coming in, was seventh. Rookie Kyle Larson was eighth with Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 10.
The teams get a break next week for the annual Easter holiday before resuming the season at Richmond International Raceway on April 26.