DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick used one of the few weekend missteps to pull out his first Darlington victory.
Harvick was among several veteran drivers fighting for the Nationwide Series win Friday night when rookie Chase Elliott used fresher tires and a strong machine to move from the back of the pack to first place over the final two laps.
On Saturday night in the Sprint Cup race, Harvick took advantage of four new tires to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. two laps from the end to win the longest race in the track’s 65-year NASCAR history. The grippier rubber let Harvick race the high line while others slipped or spun tires trying to get going.
“I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race,” Harvick said. “It was a good tool in your bag to have there at the end.”
Harvick earned his first pole here Friday night and had the most dominant car. But he had to make it through a restart with 10 laps left and two tries at a green-white-checkered finish — NASCAR’s version of extra innings.
“It was a good night and a really great weekend,” he said.
Earnhardt finished second, his best showing at the track where his late father won nine times. Jimmie Johnson was third, 2013 winner Matt Kenseth fourth and Greg Biffle fifth.
“It hurts a little bit to come this close,” Earnhardt said. “Running second’s great, but nobody’s really going to remember that.”
Harvick led 239 of the 374 laps, seven more than planned, and became the first two-time winner in the first eight races of the season. It also gave a bit of relief to those winners under the new 16-team Chase for the Sprint Cup championship that they wouldn’t have to jostle with 26 winners — there are 26 races before the final 10 playoff events — to try and make it in.
“It feels great,” Harvick said. “It’s allowed us with the way the points system is to go for wins and not have to worry about the bad weeks too much.”
Harvick had just three top-fives and six top-10 finishes in 17 career Darlington races before this. He hadn’t finished better than fifth in his last 10 tries, but clearly had the strongest machine this time out.
He was cruising along with 10 laps left when Joey Logano’s car leaked fluids on the track. Johnson and Earnhardt took just two tires in the pits and snuck out ahead of Harvick, who had taken four tires and restarted fifth.
Earnhardt quickly moved past Johnson for the lead until Denny Hamlin hit the wall for the 10th caution to set up the overtime finish.
Earnhardt was still out front on that restart when Clint Bowyer got too close to Kurt Busch and spun him out — Busch made sure to walk up the track and stare down Bowyer — to force a second green-white-checkered finish.