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
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