Darlington NASCAR: Kevin Harvick converts pole to commanding win
|Sunday, April 13th 2014, 03:17 GMT|
Kevin Harvick became the first repeat winner of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season by taking a dominant victory in the night race at Darlington.
The Stewart-Haas driver initially lost the lead from pole after fellow front row starter Joey Logano made the better getaway, but after much jostling for position, Harvick returned to the front on lap 55 of the planned 367.
From that point on he drove a perfect race and - bar a brief mid-race period when an out-of-sync Brian Vickers ran up front for 30 laps - remained in charge until a couple of late caution periods threatened to undo his hard work.
The first came courtesy of Logano who, on lap 358, left debris on the track after his Penske Ford made a smokey retirement.
This produced a rush down pitroad and Harvick fell to fifth as he opted to take on four tyres, while Hendrick team-mates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr went for two instead.
The race resumed on lap 362 and the six-time champion managed to pull away before Ricky Stenhouse Jr had a moment at Turn 1 and littered the track with yet more debris.
An attempt at a green-white-chequered finish on lap 369 had to be abandoned when Kurt Busch slammed into the inside wall on the front stretch, by which point Harvick had made his way up to second, behind Earnhardt - the pair having benefitted from Johnson's poor restart.
The second attempt was more successful and Harvick capitalised on his earlier decision to replace all four tyres as he shot past his Hendrick rival and cruised to his second win of the season.
Johnson came home third ahead of Matt Kenseth, who struggled at the beginning of the race. But when the sun went down he found his pace and worked his way up the order from the back of the field.
Kyle Busch fended off seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon for sixth. The Hendrick veteran never strayed from the top three for the majority of the race and only lost out on a better finish in the final restart lottery.
Results - 374 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 3h53m37.000s 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +0.559s 3. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet +1.163s 4. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota +1.695s 5. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +2.203s 6. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +2.367s 7. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet +2.636s 8. Kyle Larson Ganassi Chevrolet +2.869s 9. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +3.075s 10. Ryan Newman Childress Chevrolet +3.432s 11. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet +3.716s 12. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota +3.937s 13. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford +4.193s 14. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford +4.373s 15. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Chevrolet +4.510s 16. Jamie McMurray Ganassi Chevrolet +4.682s 17. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford +4.731s 18. Casey Mears Germain Chevrolet +4.933s 19. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +5.410s 20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +5.530s 21. Josh Wise Parsons Chevrolet +5.737s 22. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +6.350s 23. Justin Allgaier HScott Chevrolet +2 laps 24. Aric Almirola Petty Ford +2 laps 25. Landon Cassill Hillman Chevrolet +2 laps 26. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota +3 laps 27. Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Chevrolet +3 laps 28. David Gilliland Front Row Ford +4 laps 29. Alex Bowman BK Toyota +5 laps 30. Parker Kligerman Swan Toyota +5 laps 31. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +6 laps* 32. David Ragan Front Row Ford +7 laps 33. Travis Kvapil Go FAS Ford +7 laps 34. Joe Nemechek NEMCO JRR Toyota +8 laps * Not running at finish Retirements: Joey Logano Penske Ford 359 laps David Stremme Circle Sport Chevrolet 327 laps Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet 323 laps Cole Whitt Swan Toyota 301 laps** Reed Sorenson Baldwin Chevrolet 289 laps Ryan Truex BK Toyota 274 laps** Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 270 laps** Michael Annett Baldwin Chevrolet 101 laps Dave Blaney Humphrey Ford 65 laps ** Running again at finish