Rodney Childers made the call, and Kevin Harvick did the rest for the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team to score the win in the first of two races at Pocono Raceway.
Childers put two tires on Harvick’s Ford Mustang when they pitted for the final time in the Pocono Organics 325 with 37 laps to go. At the time, Harvick was running second behind teammate Aric Almirola, and the two pitted together. However, Almirola took four tires, which allowed Harvick to leapfrog him in the running order by a healthy margin.
When green flag pit stops finally cycled through, Harvick was in the lead with 17 laps to go. Denny Hamlin, who also took two tires, ran second and would chop away at the lead Harvick had built up, but was unable to put up much of a challenge for the win.
Almirola wound up third and was over 15 seconds behind at the checkered flag.
With the Saturday win, Harvick, crossed Pocono off the short list of tracks he had not won at in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I just (have) to thank everyone on this Busch Beer Ford Mustang. 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, get out front and make some good laps,” said Harvick of his 52nd career win. “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 has won three races since NASCAR returned to racing in May, and continues to lead the overall point standings.
Pit strategy was a key part of Harvick’s race. His team gave up stage points to pit before the end of the first stage, and then pitted when a caution came out with 13 laps to go in the second stage. That call was enough for Harvick to charge into the top 10 by the end of the stage, and from there, the team set themselves up for the run to the finish.
Harvick led once in the race, and those laps came after he took the lead with 17 laps to go.
“I knew (the strategy worked) when we came out of the pits, and they told me how big of a lead we had,” said Harvick. “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 lane.”
Almirola led the most laps Saturday afternoon, spending 61 of the race’s 130 at the front. And after finishing second in the first stage, Almirola won the second stage.
“Our Smithfield Ford Mustang was really, really fast,” said Almirola. “We opted to score a lot of points, and that probably hurt us on strategy, but I’m proud of [crew chief Mike Bugarewicz] and these guys, they’ve been bringing some awesome race cars. Felt like we were tit for tat with the 4 (Harvick) when we were on older tires there in clean air, but just proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Rookie Christopher Bell finished fourth, a career-best result in the Cup Series. In the last 10 races (since NASCAR returned), Bell has scored four top-10 finishes after failing to finish better than 21st in the first part of the season.
Kyle Busch completed the top five. Martin Truex Jr. was sixth after briefly leading while Clint Bowyer was seventh, and Michael McDowell finished eighth. Brad Keselowski finished ninth, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top 10.
NASCAR Cup Series teams will run a second race at Pocono tomorrow afternoon.
NASCAR Cup Series Race – 39th Annual Pocono Organics 325 in partnership with Rodale Institute
Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Saturday, June 27, 2020
1. (9) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 130.
2. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 130.
3. (1) Aric Almirola, Ford, 130.
4. (36) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 130.
5. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 130.
6. (11) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 130.
7. (18) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 130.
8. (26) Michael McDowell, Ford, 130.
9. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 130.
10. (24) Chris Buescher, Ford, 130.
11. (22) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 130.
12. (2) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 130.
13. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 130.
14. (16) William Byron, Chevrolet, 130.
15. (13) Ryan Newman, Ford, 130.
16. (25) Cole Custer #, Ford, 130.
17. (14) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 130.
18. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 130.
19. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 130.
20. (30) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 130.
21. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 130.
22. (23) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 129.
23. (29) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 129.
24. (20) John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 129.
25. (5) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 129.
26. (34) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 129.
27. (10) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 129.
28. (37) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 128.
29. (27) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 127.
30. (15) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 126.
31. (33) JJ Yeley, Ford, 125.
32. (40) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 125.
33. (31) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 125.
34. (35) James Davison, Chevrolet, 125.
35. (38) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 125.
36. (6) Joey Logano, Ford, 124.
37. (28) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 121.
38. (19) Erik Jones, Toyota, Accident, 70.
39. (39) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, Transmission, 36.
40. (32) Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, Accident, 19.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 134.467 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 25 Mins, 1 Secs. Margin of Victory: .761 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 21 laps.
Lead Changes: 10 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Almirola 1-19;J. Logano 20-30;A. Almirola 31-45;M. Truex Jr. 46-59;D. Hamlin 60-66;A. Almirola 67-93;D. Hamlin 94-96;R. Newman 97-109;M. McDowell 110;C. Buescher 111-113;K. Harvick 114-130.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Aric Almirola 3 times for 61 laps; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 17 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 14 laps; Ryan Newman 1 time for 13 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 11 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 10 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 3 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,10,12,18,9,1,21,2,88,20
Stage #2 Top Ten: 10,22,19,12,21,88,4,18,11,9