Kevin Harvick took advantage of four fresh tires on a green-white-checker restart in the Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway on Saturday night to drive from seventh to the lead in a single lap and take the race win.
“We’ve been beat by tires before this year, so I thought it was the right call,” Harvick said in victory lane.
The yellow flag waved for the 11th and final time in the 400-lap race when the No. 11 car of Brian Vickers made hard contact with the wall with five laps to go to lead to the green-white-checker, two-lap sprint to the finish.
Pit strategies varied during that final caution, with previous front two Juan Montoya and Harvick heading down pit road for four tires. Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger stayed out for track position to restart first through third, while Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart pitted but took only two tires to restart fourth and fifth.
With cars on different tire cycles, the final two laps were action packed, so much so that after the race, Kurt Busch made contact with Matt Kenseth’s car to show displeasure for how Kenseth raced him in the closing laps. Also, Stewart made post-race contact with Busch in a move of anger. Stewart and Busch also had a heated verbal exchange after climbing out of their cars.
“It was a free-for-all,” Busch said, describing the final laps.
After at least most of the dust settled when the checkered flag waved, Clint Bowyer was declared the runner-up, while Joey Logano finished third and Juan Montoya finished fourth.
Montoya was the race leader when the final caution came out and looked to be en route to his first-career win on an oval and his first victory anywhere in a Sprint Cup car since he won at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International in 2010.
Like Harvick, Montoya also took four tires during the yellow flag waved for the final time, but unlike Harvick, he was unable to make his way back to the front.
“It was a no-brainer to take tires,” Montoya said. “I think what hurt us was restarting on the outside.”
Toyota, specifically Toyota drivers Matt Kenseth and Bowyer, dominated the first three-quarters of the race. Kenseth led 140 laps of the 400-lap event and Bowyer was up front for 113 laps. Kenseth started on the pole and led all laps until Bowyer beat him off pit road during the second caution of the race that came out on lap 110.
Bowyer remained up front until Kenseth reclaimed the spot around lap 225. Another Toyota, the No. 18 of Kyle Busch, took over the top spot on lap 254. Kyle Busch then lost the lead to his brother, Kurt Busch, on pit road during the sixth caution of the race with 109 laps to go. Kurt Busch, in a Chevrolet, became the first non-Toyota driver to lead the race.
When the race went back to green, Kyle Busch fell back through the field several positions and then was involved in an incident with Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart that brought out the eighth caution of the race with 74 laps to go. Kyle Busch, as a result, fell off the lead lap, but got his lap back the next time the caution came out with 63 laps to go. He would fall off the lead lap again by the end of the race.
During the caution with 74 to go, Montoya and Harvick, along with a few others, stayed out and restarted the race in the top-two spots. Harvick gave up the second spot to head down pit road during the next caution with 63 laps to go, moving Martin Truex Jr. up to second for the restart.
With Montoya still in the lead, Kurt Busch made contact with Truex, trying to get by him for second, with 56 laps to go. The contact resulted in a spin for Truex and the 10th caution of the race.
Montoya and Busch restarted the race first and second. Harvick made his way up to third with 36 laps to go. With 19 to go, Harvick got by Busch to take second. Harvick steadily gained on then-leader Montoya over the course of several laps, but Montoya looked to have a large enough lead to stay in front of Harvick until the final caution came out.
Burton dropped back to fifth during the final two green-flag laps of the race. Finishing sixth through 10th were Edwards, Kenseth, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“All in all, a great run for us. We were in the top-five all night” Busch said. “Today was a great day to be in the top-five and post a top-10.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR