Harvick wins playoff opener at Darlington

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Harvick wins playoff opener at Darlington

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Harvick wins playoff opener at Darlington

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Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing did not have the best car Sunday night at Darlington Raceway. At points through the Southern 500, Harvick said his Ford Mustang had no rear grip, was on ice skates with the tires, couldn’t run near the wall, and he needed his Rodney Childers-led team to do something.

At the end of 501 miles, Harvick was in victory lane for the eighth time this season.

Harvick led the final 13 laps when the seas parted ahead of him. Martin Truex Jr. made an aggressive move on the inside to take the lead from Chase Elliott in Turns 1 and 2, but both drivers hit the wall. The damage forced Truex to pit road with 12 laps to go while Elliott began to fade, and Harvick went from third to the lead.

“Just wound up fighting all night long,” said Harvick. “This Busch Beer Ford Mustang wasn’t where we wanted to be, but the leaders got together there, and next thing you know, we were racing for the win.”

Harvick led a total of 32 laps. The victory, which is his third at Darlington, advances Harvick into the Round of 12.

Austin Dillon capitalized on the late-race drama to finish second with Joey Logano winding up third. Logano and his Team Penske group also had to roll up their sleeves and rebound from an early setback. His Ford Mustang suffered damage to both the hood and left rear, which acted like a parachute, off a restart on lap 236.

Erik Jones finished fourth, and William Byron rounded out the top five. Alex Bowman finished sixth, with Kyle Busch seventh and Kurt Busch eighth. Aric Almirola finished ninth, and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.

After leading 19 laps and being near the top of the leaderboard all night, Denny Hamlin finished 13th. Hamlin lost his track position by losing his momentum when he was unable to make the commitment line for pit road. Put in traffic, Hamlin fell out of contention and didn’t make up much ground.

Elliott finished 20th and Truex 22nd after their tangle. Truex led a race-high 196 laps and swept both stages, and Elliott led 114 laps.

Elliott took the lead off pit road during the final round of pit stops and chose the outside lane for the restart. Truex, who came off pit road fourth, chose the inside lane and restarted on the front row. The race resumed for the final time with 41 laps to go, and Elliott and Truex gapped Harvick by over five seconds. Truex began pressuring Elliott inside the final 20 laps before making the move that cost them both with 15 laps remaining.

“I didn’t see what happened,” said Harvick of Elliott and Truex falling out of contention. “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 we were able to stay up there and fight and wound up in the right spot.”

The Southern 500 lasted just under four hours. There were seven cautions and 18 lead changes among six drivers.

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