Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kevin Harvick Wins the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

Originally written for CLNS Radio.

Kevin Harvick locked up his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a win in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 from Darlington Raceway on Saturday night.

Harvick had the most dominant car on Saturday night, and showed it early and often.  He won the pole on Friday, and led 239 of 374 laps on Saturday night.

Photo courtesy NASCAR via Getty Images
The win was Harvick’s second of the season, effectively locking him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.  That was good news for Harvick, who has struggled with mechanical problems in the past few weeks.

“We had to overcome a lot over the last several weeks,” Harvick said in victory lane.  “We’ve kept our heads down and kept doing what we had to do.”

When the green flag fell, Joey Logano jumped out to the lead after starting on the inside of Harvick.  Harvick quickly learned his lesson, however, and he restarted on the inside following the first caution on lap 41.  He took the lead away from Jeff Gordon, and held on to the top spot until the next caution came out on lap 59.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin used pit strategy to get up front, and they restarted on the front row following the caution.  It only took 10 laps for Harvick to chase down Kenseth for the lead, and he led over the next two caution periods, for a span of over 100 laps.

Kasey Kahne had to make an early pit stop during a long green-flag run, and he was able to gain a lot of time on the leaders with his fresh tires.  When the stops cycled around, Kahne led Harvick by over five seconds.  

Harvick took the lead back following another restart on lap 208.

After Aric Almirola spun to bring out the caution on lap 222, Brian Vickers and Ryan Newman took two tires to get to the front of the field.  They were able to hold off Harvick on the following restart, and a caution 20 laps later reset the field again.

On the next restart, Harvick was able to drive around Vickers for the lead, and he held on until lap 358, when Logano got into the wall to bring out the caution.

Jimmie Johnson only took two tires during the caution period, and he led the field into Turn 1 on lap 363.  He was able to hold off the leaders until the caution came out for debris with just three laps to go.

On the next restart, Harvick pushed Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the lead.  Earnhardt was headed into Turn 3 when the caution came out again for a spin by Kurt Busch.  Busch had made contact with Clint Bowyer, and showed his displeasure by glaring at the No. 15 as it drove by.

On the final restart, Earnhardt jumped out to the lead, but was caught by Harvick coming down the backstretch.  Harvick drove around Earnhardt coming out of Turn 4 and took the checkered flag for his 25th career victory.

Here are the unofficial results:

1. Kevin Harvick
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Greg Biffle
6. Kyle Busch
7. Jeff Gordon
8. Kyle Larson
9. Tony Stewart
10. Ryan Newman
11. Austin Dillon
12. Clint Bowyer
13. Carl Edwards
14. Marcos Ambrose
15. AJ Allmendinger
16. Jamie McMurray
17. Brad Keselowski
18. Casey Mears
19. Denny Hamlin
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
21. Josh Wise
22. Danica Patrick
23. Just Allgaier
24. Aric Almirola
25. Landon Cassill
26. Brian Vickers
27. Martin Truex Jr.
28. David Gilliland
29. Alex Bowman
30. Parker Kligerman
31. Kurt Busch
32. David Ragan
33. Travis Kvapil
34. Joe Nemechek
35. Joey Logano
36. David Stremme
37. Kasey Kahne
38. Cole Whitt
39. Reed Sorenson
40. Ryan Truex
41. Paul Menard
42. Michael Annett
43. Dave Blaney

The Sprint Cup Series will return to action on April 26 for another Saturday night race under the lights.  The Toyota Owners 400 from Richmond International Raceway can be seen at 7:00 p.m., only on FOX.

Harvick celebrates in victory lane. (Photo courtesy NASCAR via Getty Images)

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