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Harvick dominates Bojangles' Southern 500

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Apr 14 2014 09:20:56 AM CDT
Racing generic, winners flag

Caren Firouz/Reuters

DARLINGTON, S.C. -

Kevin Harvick dominated the Bojangles' Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night, leading 238 laps of a race that was extended to 511 miles by two green-white-checker attempts to claim the win.

While it was Harvick's first career win at Darlington, it was his second victory of the season, making him the first repeat winner after eight races.

"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. Really proud for these guys and looking forward to the last 10."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, Jimmie Johnson was third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five.

"Just didn't have enough tires, you know," Earnhardt said. "Harvick had the best car and the best tires at the end. "It was real hard to hold him off. I should have probably ran the top there in (turns) three and four and made him go around the bottom, but I think he was going to get us anyway and we were going to try. A great run; good job by my team."

Johnson started 26th and remained outside the top-20 through the first quarter of the race, but he was up to second after a cycle of green flag pit stops completed just past lap 320. Johnson ran second to Harvick and took only two tires to Harvick's four during a caution on lap 357 to restart with the lead. Harvick restarted fifth, the first driver with four fresh tires.

"Things were really going our way there when we took two tires and got the restart under control and had a good lead there," Johnson said. "Then the caution came out and, at that point, I knew that us on two tires, we were probably in big trouble and the No. 4 (Harvick) had worked his way up through there and did a great job. It seemed like the fastest car all night long. We had to gamble to kind of take a shot at getting a win and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) played it right, and we were in the right position, but just got two cautions there at the end that kept us from getting to victory lane."

On the restart, Harvick pushed Earnhardt by Johnson and moved into second. He then took the lead on the final restart of the race.

"It was just one of those deals where the strategy was going to be hard to overcome with the track position without those green-white-checkers there at the end," Harvick said. "The cautions all lined out and this Budweiser Chevrolet was unbelievable all night. We were able to hang on there at the end, and I knew I had the high line. I hadn't showed it to them all night on the restarts, and I wanted to save it until the very end. I kind of learned that last night as we were in the Nationwide race. It was a good took in your tool bag to have there at the end."

Harvick also lost the lead on pit strategy during a caution that came out just past lap 250 and again on lap 271, but each time he quickly got back to the front.

Joey Logano took the lead on lap one and led the first 37 laps. Harvick took the lead for the first time on the restart that followed a lap 40 caution.

By the time Kasey Kahne kicked off a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 175, Harvick had already led a total of 115 laps. Kahne was in the lead after the restart by virtue of having new tires for a few more laps. But Harvick retook the lead on a restart following a lap 201 caution.

Harvick was the dominant driver in the first 250 laps of the 367-lap race. But at lap 250, Brian Vickers was the race leader, with Jeff Gordon in second.

Despite the dominance, Harvick didn't lead early after starting the race from the pole. Instead, Joey Logano took the lead on lap one and led the first 37 laps.

Gordon, who came into the race leading all active drivers with seven wins at Darlington (NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson holds the record with 10), then raced from third to the lead in lapped traffic, just before the caution flag waved for the first time on lap 40.

Harvick took the lead for the first time on the restart that followed. He lost the lead on pit road during the next caution just before lap 60, but was back upfront by lap 76, taking the lead from Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth was one of four drivers who got track position during the caution by taking only two tires.

By the time Kasey Kahne kicked off a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 175, Harvick had already led a total of 115 laps. Kahne was in the lead after the restart by virtue of having new tires for a few more laps.

Kahne maintained his lead until the next caution flag on lap 201 and got off pit road to restart first. As soon as the race returned to green, though, Harvick reassumed his position up front. Through the remainder of the race, Harvick lost positions on pit road during cautions because of strategy, but he always got back to the front in a matter of a few laps.

Kyle Busch finished in the sixth position, while Gordon finished seventh after running second to Harvick for much of the race. Kyle Larson was the highest-finishing rookie, taking the eighth spot. Tony Stewart was ninth and Newman rounded out the top-10.

"There towards the end, we just kind of started fading," Gordon said. "I got into the wall a little bit and got the right side flattened up a little bit and then, from there, I just went downhill. We just made some mistakes and got behind and were the last car on two tires and then got eaten up on those restarts."

NOTES: Prior to Saturday's race, Harvick had only led a total of 63 laps in his previous 17 starts at Darlington. ... Joey Logano has led laps in seven of the eight races thus far in 2014. ... Harvick was the race leader at mile 100, mile 200, mile 300, mile 400, but not at mile 500. ... There were 22 lead changes among 12 drivers. ... There were 11 cautions for 50 laps.

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