Kevin Harvick finally holds on, wins pivotal Charlotte Chase race
After a frustrating summer, Kevin Harvick finally sealed the deal, scoring a dominating victory in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the midway point in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
With the triumph at Charlotte, Harvick is guaranteed to be one of the eight drivers who advances to the semifinal Eliminator Round of the Chase, which begins in two weeks at Martinsville Speedway.
The victory was the third of the year for Harvick, but his first since Darlington in April. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been consistently fast all season but for a variety of reasons was winless in his previous 22 starts.
But it all came right for Harvick at Charlotte, where he led 162 of 334 laps to win over the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon. Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch completed the top five.
"We know that we’ve had the cars to run up front and lead laps and do the things we needed to do," said Harvick. "But things just hadn’t gone right. We’d made some mistakes, things hadn’t gone right more (often) than not. … This is the night that we needed to win."
Logano won last week at Kansas to lock himself into the next round. The final six spots in the Eliminator Round will be decided at Talladega.
For his part, runner-up Gordon greatly helped his chances of making it to the next Chase round.
"I’m really proud of that finish, really proud of that effort," said Gordon. " … Kevin was tough. I knew he was going to be tough once he got out there."
The big loser on the night was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who broke a shifter in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Lap 137 and finished 20th. In all likelihood, Earnhardt will have to win next Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway to make it to the next round of the Chase.
Likewise, Jimmie Johnson made a disastrous decision to pit from fourth place in the closing laps and finished 17th and at the end of the race, Brad Keselowski crashed and ended up 16th, afterward scuffling with both Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth in the garage as tempers boiled over and the boys had at it.
Indeed, it was an eventful race under the lights at Charlotte.
Kyle Busch started from the pole, but it was Gordon who was the force out front early, leading 72 of the first 140 laps.
Then it was Harvick’s turn, as the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet flashed the speed it has shown throughout much of the season. Harvick took his first lead on Lap 105 and by Lap 250 had led 127 laps.
A spin by Danica Patrick on Lap 246 sent the field down pit road, where Kyle Busch retook the lead.
On Lap 263, Kyle Larson went high to pass Busch and went to the point, but he wouldn’t stay there long.
Three laps later, Michael Annett lost a tire to bring out a caution. Under the yellow, Keselowski stayed out to take the lead, while Hamlin, Johnson and Kenseth each took two tires and positions two through four, respectively, followed by Kyle Busch, Harvick and Larson.
On the restart, Hamlin passed Keselowski to take the lead. Keselowski meanwhile, tried to block the onrushing Kenseth, but put Kenseth into the wall, dropping Kenseth from fourth to 18th.
With 54 laps to go, Larson passed first Johnson and then Keselowski to move into second place. Nine laps later, Larson scraped the wall and Harvick retook second place, setting off after leader Hamlin.
Harvick got past Hamlin for the lead with 41 laps to go, immediately opening a gap. With 30 laps to go, Gordon was up to second and closing on Harvick.
After a round of green-flag stops, Harvick’s lead widened to more than 6 seconds with 17 laps to go.
Brian Vickers lost a motor with 7 laps to go to bring out a caution. The top three cars stayed out, with Johnson the first to pit from fourth.
That set up a two-lap shootout for the win. Harvick restarted on the outside and made it stick to win over Gordon.
Heading into Talladega, the four drivers outside the top eight transfer spots are Kenseth (-1), Keselowski (-19), Johnson (-26) and Earnhardt (-26).
VIDEO: Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski scuffle at Charlotte