Kevin Harvick became the first repeat winner in the first eight races of 2014 on Saturday night in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, and he did so in dominant fashio, leading a race-high 238 laps.
“It feels great,” Harvick said. “It’s allowed us with the way the points system is to go for wins and not have to worry about the bad weeks too much. Really proud for these guys and looking forward to the last 10.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, Jimmie Johnson was third, Matt Kenseth fourth, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five.
Harvick started on the pole, but didn’t lead his first lap until the restart following the first caution that came out on lap 40. Instead, Joey Logano, who started next to Harvick on the front row, took the lead on lap one and led the first 37 laps. Jeff Gordon then led a handful of laps before Harvick took over after the lap 40 caution.
For the remainder of the race, Harvick would occasionally lost the lead and sometimes a few more positions on pit road, usually because of pit strategy, sometimes because of a few teams opting to change only two tires to his four. But it would only be a matter of a few laps before Harvick would be back up front.
Johnson started the race 26th and struggled early, but he made his way toward the front in the later laps to find himself second to Harvick after a cycle of green-flag pit stops completed soon after lap 320. Johnson got the lead by taking only two tires during a caution that came out on lap 357.
“Things were really going our way there when we took two tires and got the restart under control and had a good lead there,” Johnson said. “Then the caution came out and, at that point, I knew that us on two tires, we were probably in big trouble and the No. 4 (Harvick) had worked his way up through there and did a great job. It seemed like the fastest car all night long. We had to gamble to kind of take a shot at getting a win and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) played it right, and we were in the right position, but just got two cautions there at the end that kept us from getting to victory lane.”
Other drivers, including Earnhardt, Kenseth and Gordon, also took two. Harvick restarted fifth, the first driver with four fresh tires. When the race restarted, Harvick quickly moved up to third and the yellow flag promptly waved again. On the first green-white-checker restart , he pushed Earnhardt by Johnson and moved up to the second position. The yellow waved again, making for restart with Earnhardt and Harvick on the front row. Just before the white flag, Harvick was able to move by Earnhardt for the win.
“Just didn’t have enough tires, you know,” Earnhardt said. “Harvick had the best car and the best tires at the end. “It was real hard to hold him off. I should have probably ran the top there in (turns) three and four and made him go around the bottom, but I think he was going to get us anyway and we were going to try. A great run; good job by my team.”
Kyle Busch finished sixth, and Gordon was seventh after running second to Harvick for much of the race. Kyle Larson was eighth, Tony Stewart ninth, and Ryan Newman 10th.