Kevin Harvick celebrates in victory lane. (Getty)
Kevin Harvick darted from seventh to the lead in less than a lap and pulled away for the win in Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 after a frenetic green-white-checker restart.
Before the caution flag flew with six laps to go, Harvick found himself chasing Juan Pablo Montoya for the lead in the Toyota Owners 400. While Harvick had done well on fresher tires to close the gap between himself and Montoya, his chances of getting close enough to make a move for the win dwindled with every lap.
When Brian Vickers crashed to bring out that yellow flag, Harvick had his chance to pounce. It just ended up being a little more complicated than originally anticipated.
He and Montoya, along with most of the rest of the race's lead cars, dove to pit road to take fresh tires, and the two of them were the first drivers off pit road with four tires. However, Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray and AJ Allmendinger stayed out and Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart took two tires.
That put Harvick fourth on the inside line as the field took the green flag for the final time. He immediately dove to the inside of Stewart as the two entered turn one and as soon as he cleared him, Allmendinger had washed up from the inside line ahead of Harvick, unable to stick to the bottom line on those old tires.
With that inside groove wide open like a rural highway, Harvick was second as he entered the backstretch with only Burton in front. But Burton was on those old tires too, and Harvick made easy work of him in turn three and cruised to the checkered flag.
"Yeah, it all worked out," Harvick said. "Sprint Cup racing is something that you've gotta take chances and the guys who stayed out took chances and we had to take chances. But we been beat by tires a couple times this year and I thought it was the right thing to do and (crew chief Gil Martin) made the right call and it all worked out."
Had it not been for that yellow flag, Montoya, who ended up fourth, was in position to snag the first oval track win of his career and his first Sprint Cup Series win since 2010 at Watkins Glen. While he was holding Harvick off while the two were picking their way through lapped traffic before Vickers' crash, Montoya immediately knew he had to take tires.
"We got that caution at the end and it was a no-brainer to take tires," Montoya said. "I think what hurt us is that we restarted on the outside, and when you restart on the outside and people have got really bad tires, everything packs up."
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