Kevin Harvick finally tamed the Tricky Triangle on Saturday.
A two-tire pit stop with 36 laps remaining, gave Harvick track position over his teammate Aric Almirola, whose team opted for four tires. Once the Stewart-Haas Fords cycled out to the front, Harvick took the lead on Lap 114.
He held the point over the final 17 laps for his first Pocono Raceway victory in his 39th start.
“Yeah boys, what a job, what a way to do the strategy,” said Harvick, who now has wins at 22 of the 24 NASCAR tracks. “What a turn-around. Great job guys.
“We weren’t where we needed to be to start the race and lost a bunch of track position but we came back and made some great strategy calls to get in clean air and get out front and make some good laps. It is great to finally check Pocono off the list. Everybody at Stewart-Haas racing has done such a great job with all our cars over the last several years. I guess it takes special paint schemes to get to victory lane.”
Harvick’s 52nd career win—and his third victory of 2020—wasn’t a cakewalk. Denny Hamlin, the last driver to win on the 2.5-mile track, challenged the No. 4 Busch Head for the Mountains Ford Mustang in the closing laps as Harvick navigated lapped traffic. But Hamlin developed a vibration on the No. 11 Toyota which enabled Harvick to extend his advantage by .761-seconds at the finish.
“With about 15 or 20 (laps) to go, the vibration just got really, really bad,” Hamlin said. “It still would have been tough to pass. Even though we got there, it would have been tough to get around him.”
Almirola, who started from the pole and led a race-high 61 laps, finished third. The result even surprised the driver whose best finish prior to Saturday was seventh in 2018.
"We opted to score a lot of points (in the stages), and that probably hurt us on strategy a little bit, but I’m really proud of Buga (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and these (crew) guys,” said Almirola, who also finished third last Sunday at Talladega.
“They’ve been bringing some awesome race cars. I felt like we were tit-for-tat there with the 4 (Harvick) when we were on older tires and in clean air… We’re trying to keep the momentum going—three top-fives in a row. I’m really proud of my race team.”
Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher rounded out the top 10. For Bell, the fourth-place finish marked the first top-five of his career.
“Yeah, it was a great day," said Bell, who started 36th. I was really happy with our Rheem Camry. It took me a little bit to get up to speed with obviously not having practice in my first race in a Cup car here, but by the end I was really happy with the car. Everyone did a great job here on this 95 group; we executed and ended up upfront.”
The race was initially delayed by an hour due to rain. Following a competition caution on Lap 13, the stage was only slowed by Quinn Houff’s single-car wreck in Turn 2 on Lap 19. Joey Logano remained on the track to take the lead and held serve for the Stage 1 win on Lap 25.
Almirola regained the lead when the race returned to green on Lap 31. He relinquished the lead to pit on Lap 46. Twenty laps later, NASCAR called the fourth caution for debris after J.J. Yeley blew a tire. Almirola cycled back to the lead for the Lap 70 restart. Despite a stoppage in play after Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick collided on the front stretch, Almirola continued his charge for the Stage 2 win.
Almirola led the field to green for the final stage and remained at the point until he pitted on Lap 94 with Harvick. Hamlin took the lead for three laps until he pitted on Lap 97. Despite fresher tires, Hamlin could not catch Harvick in the closing laps.
“I knew when we came out of the pits and they told me how big of a lead we had,” Harvick said. “I saw the 11 come out of the pits and he was in second. I knew that the tire gap was going to be a little less. He caught us a little in traffic but I knew I could be pretty patient with the gap we had.
“As I started to see everything cycle out and see with the track position we had with the fresher tires you could kind of start to put it together in your mind as we started to run through the last stage and cars started to have to pit. Just a great call by Rodney Childers and all the guys up on the pit box for having the right strategy and getting us to victory
The victory was a boost for Harvick—particularly since the Pocono Organics 250 was the first of a NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader.
“I think in the end it will come down to strategy,” Harvick said of Sunday’s race. “I think we can make our car quite a bit better. We kind of crutched it today to get the problems that we had. I think there are a lot of problems we can fix on it and make it better. Hopefully, we can do that.
“Sometimes it goes the opposite way and you think you can make it better and it slows down. We will find out when they drop the green flag tomorrow.”
Harvick extended his advantage in the standings to 29 points over Ryan Blaney.