20 races into the 2019 Monster Energy Cup Series season, Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing are finally in Victory Lane. After holding off a last-second charge by Denny Hamlin, Harvick was able to take his first win of the year in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Brad Keselowski started on the pole alongside Kyle Busch, the former’s first since 2017. Five drivers – Hamlin, Ryan Newman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Alex Bowman – were ordered to the back for switching to backup cars; Bowman in particular struggled all weekend as he lost a driveshaft in qualifying and wrecked his backup in practice. With his two cars damaged, he used Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Jimmie Johnson‘s backup.
Stages #1 and 2
Busch quickly took the lead from Keselowski, while those at the rear began their moves up. By lap 25, Hamlin was already in the top twenty.
On lap 45, Austin Dillon hit the wall to bring out the first caution. While the leaders pitted, Bowman’s woeful weekend continued as he received a speeding penalty. The race resumed on lap 51 with Busch leading Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Erik Jones after Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who restarted second, had a poor jump at the green flag.
As the stage continued, Dillon and Larson both suffered flat tyres that forced them to pit. By the green-checkered flag, Busch led Jones, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Hamlin, and Daniel Suárez.
Busch retained the lead as Stage #2 began. On lap 94, Dillon went to the garage for repairs. Sixteen laps later, his Richard Childress Racing partner Daniel Hemric spun and hit the turn two wall to produce another yellow, with Suárez also getting involved. During the yellow, to further add to Bowman’s poor weekend was him missing his stall, forcing him to come back around to pit. Meanwhile, Bowman’s HMS team-mate Chase Elliott lost water pressure, leading to repairs.
The green flag waved on lap 117 with Busch still in front, while Elliott returned to the race on lap 124 and eleven laps down. Hemric eventually officially retired from the race with damage.
On lap 136, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. clipped Jones and hit the turn two wall. In an interview, Stenhouse commented on Jones, saying he will “have one coming at some point when he’s trying to make the playoffs.” After the race, Stenhouse sits twentieth in the standings, four places out of the playoff picture, while Jones is fourteenth; both need a win to guarantee spots in the postseason.
Busch pitted under yellow, while Almirola stayed out to take the lead alongside Newman. The race resumed on lap 144 before quickly coming to another pause after Truex and Bowyer wrecked together; following a quick caution, the restart took place with two laps remaining in the stage. Almirola went on to win the stage ahead of Joey Logano, Newman, Byron, Busch, Hamlin, Larson, Paul Menard, and Kurt Busch. Johnson quickly fell off the pace shortly before the stage ended due to a broken water pump belt.
The final stage began on lap 158 with Hamlin in front. Johnson eventually returned to the race in thirty-fourth.
“The reason Jimmie lost so many positions coming to the end of the stage was due to a broken water pump belt which caused the No. 48 to lose power steering,” Johnson’s sponsor Ally Racing explained. “The team replaced the pump and the belt and Jimmie is back on track in 34th position (at Loudon) with 120 laps to go.“
On lap 191, Austin Theriault, who is running his first career Cup race, went to the garage with mechanical issues; he would finish thirty-fifth with a rear gear problem. His Rick Ware Racing ally Andy Seuss, also making his premier series début, went on to finish twenty-eighth. At the front, Hamlin continued to lead.
Kyle Busch hit the wall on lap 214, which the leaders used to pit. A lap 219 restart was short lived as Larson spun out in turn one. Another green flag took place on lap 225. As Hamlin remained at the top, Larson suffered yet another spin on lap 266, this time ending his race.
Hamlin pitted to change two tyres, while Harvick stayed out to become the leader. The race resumed on lap 273 as Harvick took off. The 2014 champion began to build a safe advantage, though Hamlin was able to narrow it down.
On the final lap, Hamlin attempted to make his move in the final turn, but made contact with the leader. With Hamlin unable to pass him, Harvick held on to take his first victory of 2019. Jones finished third, followed by Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, Truex, Newman, Busch, Logano, and Keselowski.
“[W]e really had a great car the 2nd half of the race,” Hamlin tweeted. “Was in a tough position on pit call while leading. Some guys were gonna do the opposite no matter what but we certainly gave ourselves a shot there at the end. Wish I had the last lap to do all over again.”
With his fourth win at Loudon, Harvick broke a six-way tie with both Busch brothers, Johnson, Hamlin, and Newman for the most wins at the track by an active driver, while also tying Jeff Burton for the most in the race’s Cup history. On Twitter, Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers posted: