Luck finally on Kevin Harvick’s side in Darlington G-W-C win (VIDEO)

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A broken wheel hub at Las Vegas.

An oil line failure at Bristol.

A blown tire at Fontana.

An engine failure at Texas.

It had been a tough month and change for Kevin Harvick after his win in March at Phoenix. But it’s all water under the bridge as he’s now fully cemented himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Like Joey Logano last Monday at Texas, Harvick was forced to fight in Green-White-Checkered after dominating tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

And like Logano, he came through in the clutch, going from third to first over two G-W-C attempts to become the first repeat winner of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

“We’ve had to overcome a lot over the last several weeks, but we’ve had really fast cars,” Harvick said in Victory Lane to Fox Sports. “We just kept our heads down and kept doing what we had to do.”

Harvick ultimately led seven times for a whopping 238 laps, marking the fifth time in his career that he’s led at least 200 laps in a single race (he’s now won in four of those five instances).

But he had to go through one last scrap for the trophy when Logano slowed down with an apparent problem to bring out the yellow with 10 laps remaining.

That brought the leaders to the pits to load up on fresh rubber, and while Harvick took four tires, he was dropped to fifth behind Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon – all of whom took two.

A restart ensued with five laps to go, and Harvick was able to get to third place behind Johnson and Earnhardt before debris was spotted in Turn 3 to bring out another yellow with three laps left.

That put the race into G-W-C mode and on the first attempt, Earnhardt and Harvick took advantage of a bad start from Johnson to take first and second before Kurt Busch was tagged from behind by Clint Bowyer in Turn 2.

Busch was sent skidding into the inside retaining wall on the backstretch, forcing the second of a possible three G-W-C attempts.

When G-W-C No. 2 got underway, both Earnhardt and Harvick were able to sail off from Johnson. But as the two headed to Turn 3, Harvick went to the outside and then powered by Earnhardt in Turn 4 to take the lead at the white flag.

It proved to be the race-winning pass as Harvick went on to beat Earnhardt by .439 of a second to earn his inaugural triumph at “The Lady in Black.”

“I needed those Green-White-Checkers,” Harvick said. “The last one is probably the one I needed the most just for the fact that I was able to get really good restarts and able to time the restarts really well – and those guys had older tires and were spinning the tires.

“I knew if I could make it through [Turns] 1 and 2 and close to [Earnhardt], I knew I had the top line down [in Turns 3 and 4] and they were on the bottom.”

As for Earnhardt, he settled for his third runner-up finish of the season, which was still a great bounce-back after crashing out early in Fort Worth.

“[Harvick] had the best car and the best tires,” Earnhardt admitted. “I wasn’t lookin’ in the mirror to tell where anybody was – [spotter] TJ [Majors] said he was coming. I maybe should have run the top there in [Turns] 3 and 4 coming to the white and made him work the bottom to get around us.

“We had a great car. Best finish I’ve had here – I don’t really run that great here, so the guys had to prepare a really good car for us to run that well. I gotta give the National Guard team a lot of credit.”

Johnson, who qualified 26th, rallied from running as far back as 31st in the opening stint of the race to claim a third-place finish at the track where he’s won three times.

Also performing well after a tough qualifying run was Matt Kenseth, who turned in yet another steady ‘Matt Kenseth race’ by finishing fourth after starting from 25th.

Greg Biffle was also sharp tonight, placing fifth for his best result at Darlington since claiming back-to-back wins there in 2005 and 2006.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – DARLINGTON RACEWAY
Bojangles’ Southern 500
Unofficial Results

1. Kevin Harvick, led 238 laps
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 5 laps
3. Jimmie Johnson, led 8 laps
4. Matt Kenseth, led 12 laps
5. Greg Biffle, led 5 laps
6. Kyle Busch
7. Jeff Gordon, led 8 laps
8. Kyle Larson
9. Tony Stewart
10. Ryan Newman
11. Austin Dillon
12. Clint Bowyer
13. Carl Edwards
14. Marcos Ambrose
15. A.J. Allmendinger
16. Jamie McMurray
17. Brad Keselowski, led 4 laps
18. Casey Mears
19. Denny Hamlin, led 3 laps
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
21. Josh Wise
22. Danica Patrick
TWO LAPS DOWN
23. Justin Allgaier
24. Aric Almirola
25. Landon Cassill
THREE LAPS DOWN
26. Brian Vickers, led 30 laps
27. Martin Truex Jr.
FOUR LAPS DOWN
28. David Gilliland
FIVE LAPS DOWN
29. Alex Bowman
30. Parker Kligerman
31. Kurt Busch, Lap 368, Accident
SEVEN LAPS DOWN
32. David Ragan, led 1 lap
33. Travis Kvapil
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
34. Joe Nemechek

35. Joey Logano, led 37 laps, Lap 359, Front Hub
36. David Stremme, Lap 326, Brakes
37. Kasey Kahne, led 23 laps, Lap 323, Accident
38. Cole Whitt, Lap 301, Running
39. Reed Sorenson, Lap 289, Overheating
40. Ryan Truex, Lap 274, Running
41. Paul Menard, Lap 270, Running
42. Michael Annett, Lap 101, Accident
43. Dave Blaney, Lap 65, Brakes

Spencer Pigot ready for full-season IndyCar effort with ECR

Photo: IndyCar
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After spending the last two years in a part-time role with Ed Carpenter Racing, contesting the road and street course races in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot now gets a long-awaited chance at a full-season effort in 2018.

Moving over to the No. 21 entry, which has featured ECR’s full-season driver since 2016, Pigot has seen slight differences in his off-season prep ahead of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“We were one of the teams that got to a handful of days testing the aero kit, so I obviously did all the running on the road courses, but I was able to do a few laps on the ovals when Ed was testing. So, that wouldn’t have happened (if I was part-time still),” he told NBC Sports.

However, outside of that increase in testing and a little learning some new tracks – he has not raced at ISM Raceway, Gateway Motorsports Park, Pocono Raceway, or Iowa Speedway in an IndyCar – the changes to Pigot’s off-season program have not been dramatic.

“There’s definitely some things I’ll need to learn, but as far as off-season prep: nothing too dramatic, nothing too different.”

Pigot’s first full-season campaign saw its first official outing of the 2018 season last weekend during the open test at ISM Raceway. While he and the ECR team struggled to find speed much of the weekend – they languished outside of the top ten in the results of the first three sessions – things took a turn for the better during the final session of the weekend on Saturday night, when Pigot ended up ninth on the speed charts.

He ended up 14th in the combined results for the weekend, noting that he and the team still want to find more outright speed.

“I thought throughout the test that our average long run pace was okay, but we were still missing the outright pace to be where we need to be come qualifying time,” he revealed. “I think that we definitely made a step forward Saturday night and definitely have a much better idea of a direction we can head and go with when we go back.”

In terms of long-run practice, Pigot noted that tire degradation became much more prevalent, which made running with others cars around you somewhat of a challenge. Though, he emphasized that tire degradation could be beneficial for racing.

“Talking to some of the other guys, it seems a little bit harder to run behind people as the tires go off because the tires are degrading pretty quick with the lack of downforce as well,” he explained. “So, it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be sliding around a little bit more than what guys have experienced in the past. But, I think everyone’s under the same kind of idea that it’s going to be better racing, and especially at (ISM Raceway) it should be exciting.”

Pigot did get some practice at overtaking at ISM and got a feel for what he may be able to expect when IndyCar returns in April for the Phoenix Grand Prix, and while he acknowledged it was difficult to judge during testing, he did feel like he could run around other cars without much of an issue.

“It’s not like a race when everyone comes in the pits at the same time and you’re all on similar tires, so it’s kind of hard to know exactly. But, I thought we were pretty good,” he detailed. “I thought I was able to run pretty close to guys in front of me and was able to make a few passes when other guys made mistakes or might have gone a little high.”

The test also served as Pigot’s first IndyCar venture on a short oval – he last ran on a short oval in 2015 during his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship season.

“The corners definitely come up quick. There’s not much time to really relax or think about too much,” Pigot quipped when describing his first time on a short oval.

He continued, “You’ve got to concentrate pretty hard on being precise because the line there is very narrow so you have to make sure that you’re where the grip is at all points throughout the corner. And then, when everyone’s out there and you run in traffic, it’s just like you’re constantly in a corner, so it’s a little more difficult to get big runs and drafts off people. But I think it’ll definitely play into the hands of guys that have their cars set up well and can be easier on the tires.”

And in becoming the team’s full-time driver, Pigot is seeing a slight increase in his leadership role within the team, especially as it relates to testing and development, with Pigot doing the lion’s share of testing during the winter on road courses.

But, he also emphasized the oval prowess of teammate, and team owner, Ed Carpenter as something he will lean on when he ventures out on other ovals for the first time this year.

“Especially as we’re trying to learn this new aero kit, I was the one that pretty much did all the testing on the road and street courses. It was kind of me and the engineers trying to develop the car and work towards the setup that’s going to work for us. So, there’s definitely a little more responsibility in that. But, then on the ovals, obviously Ed’s there and he’s a great teammate to have and to learn from and bounce ideas off of. But, yeah, it’s definitely a more involved role within the team,” Pigot explained.

Pigot and ECR will test two more times, at Barber Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway, in the month of February prior to the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11.

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