When Kevin Harvick is not running well, he really suffers and has a terrible finish. However, when he is running well and able to dominate, it produces magical results. Tonight was a product of magical results as Kevin Harvick dominated the Bojangles Southern 500 in route to picking up his second victory of the season. Harvick is the only driver this year with multiple wins, guaranteeing himself a spot in the Chase without question.
“I want to thank everyone on this Budweiser Chevrolet – everyone who is part of this car,” Harvick commented. “We had to overcome a lot over the last few weeks, but we’ve had some real fast cars. We kept our heads down and working hard.”
It marks Harvick’s 25th career victory and his first at Darlington Raceway. Harvick also becomes the first driver to win from the pole at Darlington Raceway since Dale Jarrett in 1997.
Starting on the pole, Kevin Harvick dominated throughout the entire night (leading 238 laps) and looked to have the win in the bag when the caution flew with 10 laps to go for Joey Logano smoking. The leaders headed down pit road with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon taking right-side tires to lead the group off. Harvick would come off fifth with four new tires on his No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet.
The restart would come with five to go with Jimmie Johnson pulling ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. with the lead while Harvick slipped by both Kenseth and Gordon to move into third. As the field came around for two laps to go, the caution flew once again for Travis Kvapil and Denny Hamlin having an incident down the backstretch. This set up a green-white-checkered finish.
When the green flew for the restart, Johnson spun his tires on the bottom, which allowed Earnhardt Jr. to get away and pull ahead as the leader. Harvick would get by Johnson and begin to set his sights on Earnhardt when the caution flew to set-up a second green-white-checkered. Kurt Busch brought out the caution when he got loos and contact from Clint Bowyer sent him into the inside retaining wall.
On the second green-white-checkered, Earnhardt would pull ahead of Harvick in turns one and two, though Harvick got to the outside of Earnhardt in turn four and took the lead. Harvick then led the rest of the way on his way to victory.
“We needed those green-white-checkereds for the fact that I was able to get good restart and they were spinning the tires,” Harvick noted. “I knew if I got a run off two that I’d be on the outside down in turn four. It’s a good night. It’s the southern 500!”
Earnhardt Jr. would finish second for his third runner-up finish since winning the Daytona 500 in February. It also marks his career-best at Darlington, beating the fourth place runs that he got in 2002 and 2008.
“He had the best car and the best tires,” Earnhardt Jr. commented. “I maybe should’ve ran the top in three and four to make him race me harder for it. These guys did a great job on this car and it’s great to have this run as I normally don’t run that well here. it was a good night.”
Jimmie Johnson overcame his 26th starting spot to finish third despite struggling early in the race and requiring multiple pit stops under a lap 40 caution to work on the car.
“So thankful that my guys keep working and keep trying,” Johnson commented. “The first quarter of the race the car was far off. Chad took some swings at it and got this car where it needs to be. I hadn’t been upfront but everyone said to take the outside. Dale said afterwards that it was a bad call and certainly that push from the 4 (Harvick) helped. It probably would’ve been better for us if it stayed green there.”
Matt Kenseth, who started 25th, cracked the top 10 mid-race and was able to keep himself up there to finish fourth.
“It seemed like the inside row was better but Kevin started on the top and he was just able to get right out there and away with having more tires,” Kenseth said. “Overall, it was a good night.”
Greg Biffle rounded out the top five, followed by Kyle Busch. Busch got into the wall multiple times throughout the night, requiring extended service on pit road to adjust the toe on his Toyota. Gordon would finish seventh to keep the points lead, now one point ahead of Kenseth.
“We had a really strong racecar,” Gordon commented. “Everything was going really well. Kevin having that number one pit stall heped and he was fast – but I thought we were better at times. That last run, we started fading and I got into the wall a little bit. From there, we made some mistakes and fell back a couple times.”
Rookie Kyle Larson was eighth, followed by Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon.
While Larson and Dillon fared well, their fellow rookies did not as Ryan Truex, Michael Annett and Cole Whitt brought out cautions throughout the night for incidents. However, Darlington didn’t just bite the rookies as Travis Kvapil and Paul Menard also suffered some issues tonight, as well.
With short track racing at Richmond International Raceway around the corner in a couple of weeks, there will be some drivers to watch.
Aric Almirola and Danica Patrick bumped off each other multiple times, with Patrick spinning Almirola on lap 221. On the flip side, A.J. Allmendinger and Dillon bumped off each other causing a tire rub for Allmendinger. Luckily, a cuation came out shortly after so he could pit for repairs. Allmendinger expressed frustration on the radio, saying that he was going to wreck Dillon.