Kevin Harvick never gives up the fight—and he proved it again in Sunday’s Southern 500.
Harvick didn’t have the best car at Darlington Raceway, but an incident between Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott while battling for the lead with 15 laps remaining took both drivers out of contention and opened the door for the Closer.
Although Austin Dillon challenged the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford over the closing laps, Harvick held on for his second win at the Lady in Black this season and locked his way into the second round of the Playoffs.
“Way to fight,” Harvick yelled over the radio. “I don’t even know how we did that. Great job.”
Dillon finished .343-seconds behind Harvick.
“I just drove in there and wanted to hit my marks and hit the bottom,” Harvick added. “I knew I had a cushion and just wanted to maintain the best that I could. I just had to get back to the start-finish line, so just didn’t want to miss my marks.”
Joey Logano, who received damage during the final stage restart on Lap 235 and dropped to 23rd, recovered for third.
Erik Jones, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
Truex won the first stage which was slowed by a competition caution followed by a yellow for debris after Brad Keselowski hit the wall. After dropping to 34th following repairs, he fought back to 11th. Truex held serve through the Lap122 restart.
Ryan Blaney, who had finished 16th in the first stage, was called back to the pits after the team discovered they had put the wrong set of tires on each side of the car. The No. 12 Ford dropped to the rear of the field. Harvick took the lead for the first time on Lap 174 after short-pitting 18 laps earlier. When Bubba Wallace triggered the fourth caution after spinning in Turn 4 on Lap 180, Blaney took the wave-around and moved up to 23rd.
Truex, who led a race-high 196 laps, took the lead again on the restart and held on to win Stage 2. Denny Hamlin took the point from Truex on the restart. He appeared to be in command of the race until 10 laps later when John Hunter Nemechek spun in Turn 1 to ignite the sixth caution.
When the race returned to green on Lap 250, Truex, Kyle Busch and Hamlin were out front with Harvick in fourth. Joe Gibbs Racing elected to leave its three Playoff contenders out on the track for a long run. Jimmie Johnson was the first of the lead lap cars to pit on Lap 282, Harvick followed not long after and cycled back to 11th, one lap down, in eight laps.
By Lap 304, the Gibbs Toyotas and Kurt Busch had 57 laps on their tires. Harvick, who had untapped himself, running fifth. Kurt Busch pitted two laps later, followed by Truex from the lead. On the next circuit, the other JGR cars were called to pit, but Hamlin missed pit lane as he attempted to come in.
Harvick cycled back to the lead on Lap 309, followed by Elliott. Eleven laps later, NASCAR called the seventh and final caution for debris and handed the lead over to Elliott. With 17 to go, Truex had caught Elliott and made the cross over for the lead. As the drivers came through the next corner, Truex slid up into the No. 24 Chevy and both cars tagged the wall.
“He (Truex) had a run on me there off of four and he just kind of cleared himself into one,” said Elliott, who finished 20th. “He was close, but he wasn’t all the way clear, obviously. I hate it, obviously we had a fast NAPA Camaro—fast enough to contend.
“We needed a little pace there to extend our lead instead of playing defense, but regardless I thought we were in a good spot. I ran the bottom in three and four to see if there was anything left down there, that’s what kind of gave him the run and then he just slid up into my left front, I felt like and on we went.”
Truex, who finished 22nd, was forced to pit on Lap 354 and turned the lead over to Harvick.
“We just wound up fighting all night long,” Harvick said. “This Busch Beer Ford Mustang wasn’t where we wanted it to be, but the leaders got tangled up there and the next thing you know we were racing for the win.”
Despite a dramatic drive from Dillon, Harvick held on for his eighth victory of 2020 and the 57th of his career to move up to ninth on the all-time win list.
“Anytime you can win the Southern 500 is a good day,” Harvick said. “This is one of the most prestigious races in our sport and this is one the most prestigious racetracks in our sport, so anytime you can win at Darlington it’s a big deal, but, man, Southern 500!”