Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), dominated early inSunday night’s Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, but late-race miscues on pit road led to a runner-up finish. It was Harvick’s 12th top-five finish this season and his sixth top-five in 20 career Sprint Cup starts at Darlington.
Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Beer Chevrolet – which, as part of Darlington’s NASCAR Throwback weekend, featured the livery that NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough drove during the 1979 and 1980 premier series seasons – started from the pole position after NASCAR cancelled all on-track activity on Friday due to Hurricane Hermine and set the field according to the NASCAR Rule Book.
The Bakersfield, California, native led five times for a total of 214 laps to move his 2016 season total to 1,211. He has now led more than 1,000 laps for the third-straight season with 11 Sprint Cup events remaining. Prior to joining SHR his single-season best was 895 laps led in 2006.
Harvick ran in front more than half the race, and he has now surpassed 10,000 laps led in his Sprint Cup career. He joins four other active full-time Sprint Cup drivers to have led more than 10,000 laps: Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
The 2014 Sprint Cup Series Champion got off to a fast start as he led the first 93 laps of the race and looked to be in control early. He gave up the lead on lap 94 to pit under green-flag conditions, but a caution flag flew as he was leaving pit road to drop him to fifth on the lap-104 restart. He raced his way back to the lead by lap 139 and held it until again visiting pit road for a green-flag stop on lap 163. Following the pit cycle, Harvick regained the lead on lap 165 and held it for another 87 laps.
Harvick brought the Busch Beer Chevrolet to pit road as he led on lap 251 for a four-tire change, but due to a slow pit stop he restarted fifth on lap 255. He raced his way back to the lead by lap 273 and held it until coming to pit road under caution on lap 281. The No. 4 team again suffered a slow pit stop due to a malfunctioning piece of equipment, and Harvick dropped from the lead to 12th for the lap-282 restart.
Harvick returned to the top-five by lap 305 and continued his march toward the front, racing in the second position as the checkered flag flew on lap 367.
“Our Busch Beer team in the garage did a great job,” said Harvick, the 2014 Southern 500 Champion. “They brought the fastest race car to the track once again, and we just didn’t do a good job on pit road and gave it away.”
Harvick led the four-car SHR contingent Sunday at Darlington.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 24th.
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 35th after being involved in an accident on lap 326.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Coca-Cola Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 36th after an engine issue put him out of the race on lap 317.
Martin Truex Jr. won the Southern 500 by 0.606 of a second over Harvick to score his fifth career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Darlington.
Kyle Larson finished third, while Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 52 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 367-lap race around the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.
With round 25 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR and the series in the championship standings. He is first with 840 points, 43 ahead of second-place Keselowski. Busch is sixth with 728 points, 112 behind Harvick. Patrick is 23rd with 467 points, 120 ahead of 31st place. Stewart is 27th with 426 points, 79 ahead of 31st.
Harvick, Busch and Stewart are all eligible to compete in the 16-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, which begins after the Sept. 10 race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. All have won a race this season and are among the top-30 in points, the two requirements necessary to secure a spot in the Chase. Patrick can also earn a Chase berth by winning a race and staying inside the top-30. Just one race remains before the Chase begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond. The last race before the Chase starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, Sept. 10, with live coverage provided by NBCSN.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!