Kevin Harvick became the first repeat winner of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, winning the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in dominant fashion.
However, just as happened a week earlier to Joey Logano late cautions threatened to snatch away a deserved victory. Ironically it was the Penske Racing driver himself who began the sequence of events when he pulled his car off the track trailing smoke with nine laps to go.
At the time Harvick had a relatively comfortable lead over Jimmie Johnson but when the yellow flag came out after Logano’s exit to the garages Harvick the pack down into the pits, where suddenly his victory was less than assured. While he took on four new tyres on his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet other teams opted to make a plate play for track position by only taking two tyres.
Thus when the race restarted with just five of the scheduled 367 laps remaining Harvick was running in fifth behind Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon. The four new tyres gave Harvick an advantage, but the lack of laps were the challenge.
He was able to pass Gordon and Kenseth, but not before Johnson leading and Earnhardt Jr. had broken away. Luck, however, dealt Harvick a debris caution, bringing him onto back bumpers of the two Hendrick Motorsport drivers ahead and forcing the race into a green-white-checkered finish.
Johnson picked the high line for the restart – a strategic mistake given the history of the high line following the race’s previous nine cautions. Unsurprisingly, then it was Earnhardt Jr. with Harvick in tow who surged forward once the green flag flew, clearing Johnson through turns one and two leaving him to fight with Kenseth for third.
Gordon meanwhile slid up the banking and down to seventh, with drivers stacking up behind them. From the group behind the #24 Kurt Busch was spat into the inside wall off the front bumper of Clint Bowyer, bring around a second attempt at a two shootout to the checkered flag.
This time, there was no caution flag and as Earnhardt Jr. led through turn four on the penultimate lap Harvick’s better tyres paid dividends as he powered around the outside to lead to the white flag, taking victory a lap later.
The result, which cement’s Harvick’s place in the new format Chase, was just reward for the 238 laps Harvick led, the dominance of which is proved by Logano’s total of 38 that was the second highest tally for that stat during the race.
Drivers who picked up just two tyres filled out the rest of the top five; Earnhardt Jr., Johnson, Kenseth and Greg Biffle all finishing ahead of Kyle Busch – who like Harvick took four tyres late on – and Gordon.
Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman completed the top ten.