Kevin Harvick showed why he’s the number one seed in NASCAR’s 2020 Playoffs Sunday night. Harvick took advantage of the misfortunes of others to grab the lead with 15 laps to go and hold off a hard charging Austin Dillon to win NASCAR’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway the first race in the 10 race playoff.
It was his second Darlington win this year, his first coming in May after NASCAR returned to racing after the season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also his second Southern 500 and his series leading eighth win of 2020.
“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!”
Joey Logano ran a distant third followed by Erik Jones, who was the only non-playoff driver to finish in the top ten, and William Byron rounding out the top five.
Martin Truex Jr. had the car to beat for much of the 500 miles. He swept both stages and led a race high, and for him a season high, 196 of the 367 laps.
But that all changed after the final green flag run came after a debris caution on lap 321. Chase Elliott, who had led 114 laps on the night, grabbed the lead, with Truex close behind in second. As the laps wound down it seemed the race would be settled between the two front runners as Harvick in third was four to five seconds back.
But on lap 352, Truex got a run coming out of turn 4 and was able to get underneath Elliott entering turn 1. Truex tried to come up in front of Elliott but wasn’t clear and the back of his Toyota made contact with the front of Elliott’s Chevy sending both cars into the wall. They were able to continue, but Truex had a flat tire and had to pit, while Elliott was forced to slow.
“He (Truex) had a run on me there off of four and he just kind of cleared himself into one,” Elliott said. “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 in to my left front, I felt like and on we went.”
Harvick grabbed the lead and despite one last run from Dillon was able to win by .119 of a second.
“Obviously, those guys had trouble,” Harvick said. “I didn’t see what happened. I just heard my spotter tell me that something had happened. I’ve just got to thank everybody on our Busch Beer Ford Mustang. They did a heck of a job tonight just keeping us in the game. Our car wasn’t very good, but we just kept fighting and kept ourselves up in the front with some great pit strategy and were able to stay up there and fight and wound up in the right spot.”
Elliott finished 20th, Truex 22nd.
“Just not enough room there for the both of us,” Truex said. “I thought I had enough of a run to clear him and I think it was close, obviously. I thought I had enough momentum and distance on him that he was going to let me in there. I didn’t expect him to be on my right rear. I was committed and once I realized he was there, nothing I could do.”
“Lot to be proud of. I hate it for the nine team. It was nothing intentional, just two guys there going for the win. If it was my fault, I apologize, I really felt like I had the position to get in there.”
For Dillon it was a surprise ending capping off a night that saw him start at the back of the field to score his career best Darlington finish.
“We battled really hard all night for every single spot we could get,” Dillon said. “We had a really good long run car and towards the end of the race I knew Kevin Harvick was getting tighter each lap. I caught him earlier in the closing run, but he took my low line in Turns 1 and 2, which was where I was running the best, and stopped the momentum that I had going. I gave it everything I had though, and I’m really happy that we had a great run for Junior Johnson during NASCAR Throwback Weekend.”
Alex Bowman was sixth, Kyle Busch seventh, Kurt Busch eighth with Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer completing the top 10.
For several of the drivers in NASCAR’s 16 driver playoff field, it was a long night.
All three Team Penske drivers ran into trouble at different parts of the 500-miles, with Logano’s third place finish coming despite damage his car received in a stack-up at the start of the final stage, being the highlight for the team. Ryan Blaney was forced to start at the rear of the field after his car failed pre-race inspection for improperly mounted ballast, a penalty that also cost him 10 points in the standings and saw the loss of crew chief Todd Gordon. Travis Geisler, the organization’s competition director, filled in as interim crew chief. Blaney finished 24th.
Brad Keselowski scraped the wall in the opening stage but recovered to finish 11th.
Rookie Cole Custer had a speeding penalty and finished 12th. While number 2 Playoff seed Denny Hamlin missed pit road under green and lost time holding on to only finish 13th.
Matt DiBenedetto struggled all race long managing only a 21st place finish for his efforts. In his last race at Darlington as a fulltime driver Jimmie Johnson ran competitively early but faded in the closing laps and finished 18th.
The NASCAR Cup Series’ next race is the Federated Auto Parts 400 this coming Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. The event will be the second of three races in the Round of 16, the opening round to the series final 10 race playoffs.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Cook Out Southern 500
Darlington, South Carolina
Sunday, September 6, 2020
1. (8) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 367.
2. (12) Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, 367.
3. (13) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 367.
4. (30) Erik Jones, Toyota, 367.
5. (3) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 367.
6. (4) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 367.
7. (15) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 367.
8. (16) Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, 367.
9. (10) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 367.
10. (9) Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, 367.
11. (5) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 367.
12. (14) Cole Custer # (P), Ford, 367.
13. (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 367.
14. (26) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 367.
15. (31) Ryan Newman, Ford, 367.
16. (19) Michael McDowell, Ford, 367.
17. (35) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 367.
18. (22) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 367.
19. (29) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 367.
20. (1) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 367.
21. (11) Matt DiBenedetto (P), Ford, 366.
22. (6) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 366.
23. (24) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 366.
24. (7) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 366.
25. (28) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 364.
26. (20) Chris Buescher, Ford, 364.
27. (25) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 363.
28. (23) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 362.
29. (34) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 360.
30. (37) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 360.
31. (32) Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 357.
32. (38) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 356.
33. (39) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 351.
34. (21) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 349.
35. (33) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Overheating, 296.
36. (18) John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, Accident, 245.
37. (27) Corey LaJoie, Ford, Accident, 234.
38. (17) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, Transmission, 217.
39. (36) James Davison, Chevrolet, Engine, 162.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 132.256 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 47 Mins, 26 Secs. Margin of Victory: .119 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 34 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Elliott (P) 1-71;D. Hamlin (P) 72;K. Busch (P) 73-74;C. Elliott (P) 75-83;K. Busch (P) 84-85;M. Truex Jr. (P) 86-117;C. Elliott (P) 118;M. Truex Jr. (P) 119-172;K. Busch (P) 173;K. Harvick (P) 174-181;A. Bowman (P) 182;M. Truex Jr. (P) 183-231;D. Hamlin (P) 232-247;M. Truex Jr. (P) 248-306;D. Hamlin (P) 307-308;K. Harvick (P) 309-319;C. Elliott (P) 320-352;M. Truex Jr. (P) 353-354;K. Harvick (P) 355-367.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Martin Truex Jr. (P) 5 times for 196 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 4 times for 114 laps; Kevin Harvick (P) 3 times for 32 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 3 times for 19 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 3 times for 5 laps; Alex Bowman (P) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 19,48,9,11,1,88,22,24,18,4
Stage #2 Top Ten: 19,11,4,88,48,18,20,3,14,1
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