For a few brief moments Saturday night, pit strategy looked like it was going to swipe a win from Kevin Harvick.
But after his Stewart-Haas teammate Kurt Busch crashed on the backstretch to set up a second green-white-checker finish, Harvick had just one car to pass for the win. And he got it done, blowing past Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the white flag waved to win at Darlington.
Harvick had the race's strongest car by far, leading 239 of the race's 374 laps after starting on the pole. He was out front with 10 laps to go when Joey Logano's smoking car caused a caution.
The field headed to pit road and Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers took four tires. However, four cars ahead of them took two tires. When the race went green with five laps to go, Harvick was pinned to the inside and the four cars ahead of him pulled ahead..
Time was running out, but a caution flag flew with three laps to go saved him. When it came out, Harvick was fourth, meaning he was on the second row for the ensuing restart, a row ahead of where he was previously.
Then, a half-lap after that restart, Busch crashed on the backstretch after a bump from Clint Bowyer.
When Busch smacked the wall, Harvick was in second. With no cars in front of him and Junior on two fresh tires to his inside, Harvick just needed to pick a spot to make a pass when the race went green again.
"I needed those green-white-checkers," Harvick said. "The last one is the one I probably needed the most just for the fact that I was able to get really good restarts and able to time the restarts really well. And those guys had older tires and were spinning the tires."
He made the pass in turns three and four, accelerating around Junior on the high side.
"He had the best car and the best tires," Junior said. "I wasn't looking in the mirror, I couldn't tell where anyone was, but (spotter T.J. Majors) said he was coming and so I maybe should have run the top there in three and four and made him run the bottom to come around ... but we had a great car. Best finish I've ever had here."
If you were bracing yourself for something to happen to ruin Harvick's run throughout Saturday night's race, you probably weren't alone. It's not like it's unexpected at this point. And the night wasn't without some drama for him before the last three restarts.
During a cycle of green-flag pit stops in the middle of the race, Harvick pitted from the lead but his team only got approximately 22 laps of fuel in the car; far far short of a full fuel run. But danger was averted shortly after the pit stop when a caution flag flew and the entire field pitted, putting Harvick on the same pit cycle with the rest of the field once again.
Harvick's win also makes him the first two-time winner in the Sprint Cup Series this season. However, it's still two winless drivers who are at the top of the points standings. Jeff Gordon has the points lead by a single point over Matt Kenseth.
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