DARLINGTON — It started with the Pole Award and ended with the champion’s trophy. That’s how strong Kevin Harvick’s #4 Budweiser Chevrolet was at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night.
It was Harvick holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the second two-lap overtime to win the Bojangles Southern 500 at the legendary track known as “Too Tough To Tame.”
It marked Harvick’s second win this season for his new team, Stewart-Haas Racing, and all but assured him a spot in The Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I think it says a lot about the character of the people and the things that happen within Stewart-Haas Racing, to have everybody keep focused on what they need to be focused on,” Harvick said in Victory Lane.
Harvick led a race-high 238 laps, but two late cautions provided unexpected hurdles.
With a comfortable lead and only eight laps remaining, a caution for fluid on the track resulted in unscheduled pit stops.
The leaders came in and while Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon opted for two tires, Harvick’s crew chief chose to take on four fresh Goodyear tires.
Then on Lap 366 of 367 it was another caution for debris, setting up the first two-lap overtime. On the restart Earnhardt Jr. vaulted to the lead followed closely by Harvick.
Just before the white flag waved, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer wrecked, setting up a second green-white-checkered finish.
Given a second chance, as the green flag waved for the restart, Harvick took little time on his four fresh tires to pass Earnhardt Jr. and claim his first ever Darlington win.
Johnson finished third, Kenseth was fourth and Greg Biffle ended up fifth. Gordon finished seventh and still leads the series standings by one point over Kenseth.
The teams are off for Easter this weekend and return to the track at Richmond the following week.