Apr. 12, 2014
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
DARLINGTON, S.C.—The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has been one of feast or famine for Kevin Harvick—and on Saturday night at Darlington Raceway, Harvick enjoyed the delectable taste of victory.
Passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the next-to-last lap of the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish, Harvick won Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 and all but locked himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as the first two-time winner in the series this year (he still needs to finish in the top 30 and attempt to qualify for every race).
The victory was Harvick’s first at Darlington and the 25th of his career. It was the third win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Harvick led 238 of 374 laps in a race that went seven laps past its scheduled distance.
Earnhardt finished second, .559 seconds back. Jimmie Johnson ran third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.
Nothing could thwart Harvick’s domination of the first two-thirds of the race. A dropped lug nut on a pit stop on Lap 222 relegated him to ninth for a restart on Lap 227. But by the time NASCAR threw the seventh caution on Lap 247, Harvick was running fourth.
Four laps after a restart on Lap 252, Harvick was back in the lead, passing Brian Vickers for the top spot.
After Paul Menard hit the outside wall for the second time on Lap 271, Harvick ran over a piece of Menard’s brake rotor—twice—but his No. 4 Chevrolet was unaffected. Biffle took the lead on pit road with a two-tire stop, but Harvick regained the point on the restart lap (279) and quickly pulled away to a two-second advantage over Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt in second and third.
On longer runs, Gordon’s Chevy was the equal of Harvick’s, but Gordon had a miserable time on restarts and repeatedly dropped back so far on the initial green-flag laps that he couldn’t make up the ground during the course of a fuel run.
But it was Johnson who chased Harvick lap after lap after a cyle of green-flag pit stops ended on Lap 323. Johnson got as close as .601 seconds back before Harvick began to pull away. But caution for fluid from Joey Logano’s Ford scrambled the field on divergent pit strategies and set up the wild finish.