Martin Truex Jr.’s luck changed. Kevin Harvick’s didn’t.
And that was the difference in Truex’s unexpected victory in Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Truex led 28 laps, all after passing Waht is t for the top spot on Lap 339 of 367.
Harvick led a race-high 214 laps, bringing his career total to 10,068. But where Truex’s much-maligned pit crew performed its finest stop when it counted most—under caution on Lap 351—Harvick’s crew experienced the sorts of problems that have become chronic this season.
Where Truex’s over-the-wall gang got the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet off pit road with the lead for a restart on Lap 356, Harvick’s crew lost a net of 17 spots in the pits over the course of the race.
What is the bottom line, you ask? Truex, who has had the fastest car in a succession of races this year, didn’t have the most potent equipment on Sunday. Harvick did.
But it was Truex who celebrated in Victory Lane, after beating Harvick to the finish line by .606 seconds, leaving the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet to bemoan his 17th second-place finish in the past 61 races—many of which he could have won with flawless execution on pit road.
“This is unbelievable,” said Truex, who earned his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season and the fifth of his career. “I’ve always loved this race track. I’ve led a lot of laps here in my career, but something always happens, and I’m so proud to get to Victory lane with this group. The pit crew was flawless tonight—they won us the race.
“They took a lot of heat for what happened last week (a blown pit stop at Michigan resulting in a 20th-place finish). We’ve had a terrible streak of bad luck. We’ve had super-fast race cars. … I knew the bad luck would stop coming, and we’d start racking ’em off … The pit crew’s done a great job, but they did stumble last week, and this was a great way to make it up.”
Harvick’s assessment of his crew’s performance stood in sharp contrast to Truex’s. After issues with an air gun during a stop under caution on Lap 281, Harvick restarted 12th after entering pit road with the lead. He spent the rest of the race working his way forward but couldn’t catch Truex on the final 12-lap run.
“Yeah, we had a great car,” Harvick said. “The guys in the garage and at the shop continue to do a great job, and we continue to give it away on pit road. Pretty much summed up the night. Just the dominant car, and just three bad stops on pit road.”
Harvick indicated he was beyond giving encouragement to his pit crew.
“I’m over being a cheerleader,” he said. “Those guys get paid a lot of money to perform on pit road, and cheerleading hasn’t really been working. You’ve got to get after it on pit road and do your job.”
Kyle Larson, last week’s Michigan winner, came home third. Denny Hamlin ran fourth, followed by Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott completed the top 10.
Notes: Harvick is the 17th driver to accumulate 10,000 or more career laps led. … Chris Buescher ran 17th and stretched his lead over 21st-place David Ragan to 11 points in the race for the 30th position in the Sprint Cup standings. Buescher, who won a rain-shortened race at Pocono in August, must hold 30th or better next week at Richmond to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. … Fighting for the last Chase spot on points, Newman shaved Jamie McMurray’s lead to seven points with one race left before the cutoff. McMurray currently holds the final Chase-eligible position. … Truex’s victory was the fourth for the Furniture Row organization. FRR won the Southern 500 with Regan Smith in 2011—Smith’s only triumph in a Sprint Cup car.
Check out the unofficial results of the Bojangles Southern 500.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!