Kevin Harvick took home his second trophy of the season as he won the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Saturday night.
He had the pole in the 367-lap race and held a top ten position throughout the contest. Joey Logano had the lead early on in the race but it didn’t take Harvick long to find clean air. He would get shuffled from the lead on different tire strategies by teams but he held his own at the track they call “Too Tough to Tame”.
A late race caution came out as Joey Logano had brake trouble and left debris on the track. This gave Jimmie Johnson’s team and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team a chance to take two tires to get track position after the last pit stop of the night. In fact, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth’s teams also gambled with the two tire change. Kevin Harvick’s team was the first in line to take all four tires which proved to be the combination that worked the best.
The race restarted with five laps to go and Jimmie Johnson had the lead at the wave of the green flag. Johnson was able to get a good start and got a good lead on the field when a debris caution was called. This set up the first green-white-checkered on the night.
With the lead, Johnson opted to go on the outside for the restart and spun the tires at the drop of the flag. Harvick was behind Earnhardt, Jr. and pushed him to the lead. Kurt Busch then spun which brought out another caution and set up the second attempt.
All this time, Harvick was inching his way closer. He would start in the third position.
Earnhardt, Jr. opted to start on the inside and got a good restart. He kept the lead, but Harvick, on four fresh tires, was able to reel him in and take the lead prior to the showing of the white flag. It was smooth sailing for Harvick after that and he became the first repeat winner of the season.
Earnhardt, Jr. who ran well throughout the night finished second and it was his best career finish at Darlington Raceway.
Jimmie Johnson had a huge comeback after starting 26th and running lower than 30th at one point. An early caution helped his team decide how to fix his car. Crew Chief Chad Knaus methodically dialed in the car and Johnson’s sharp driving skill brought it into the top 15 by lap 100. He was in the top ten by lap 112. He just kept getting better and better and eventually took the top spot near the end of the race. He finished third.
Jeff Gordon had a top five car all race long. He raced hard to keep it there but after the green-white-checkered situations he fell to finish seventh.
Tony Stewart had not been running in the top portion of the race until the last pit stop. Strategy allowed him to get into the top ten. He finished ninth. The same happened with Kyle Larson. While Larson was running in the top 20, his team gambled during the last caution and finished in the eighth position. Larson was the highest finishing rookie of the race.
The Lady in Black wasn’t kind to many cars. Kyle Busch smacked the wall a few times which gave him an ill-handling race car but managed a top-ten finish. Kasey Kahne also found the wall late in the race and had to take it to the garage. Paul Menard also had a difficult night after hitting the outside wall hard twice. Several others became too familiar with the “Darlington Stripe”. The count was high, as expected.
Harvick led the most laps with 238 while Joey Logano led 37, Brian Vickers with 30, Kasey Kahne with 23, Matt Kenseth with 12, Jeff Gordon with 8, Jimmie Johnson with 8, Greg Biffle with 5, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with 5, Brad Keselowski with 4, Denny Hamlin with 3 and David Ragan with 1.
Harvick becomes the first driver to win from the pole at Darlington Raceway since Dale Jarrett in 1997.
It was his first win at this race track.
There were 11 cautions.
The top ten: Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart, and Ryan Newman.
The next NASCAR Sprint Cup race will be Saturday, April 26 at 7 p.m. ET at Richmond International Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400.