Kevin Harvick started out the Bojangles' Southern 500 in first place, and he ended the Bojangles' Southern 500 in first place, becoming the first driver since Dale Jarrett in 1997 to win at Darlington after starting on the pole, per NASCAR Stats:
Late in the race Saturday night, the victory looked to be slipping out of Harvick's fingers. After a caution on the 258th lap, he chose to get four new tires in the pits, while the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. opted for only two, per Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network:
As a result of the calculated gamble, Johnson and Earnhardt exited the pits faster, and Harvick dropped to fifth.
He who laughs last laughs best, though.
Yet another caution came after Kurt Busch wrecked on the 369th lap. By that time, Harvick had worked his way up to second.
He passed Junior on the green-white-checker and held off the No. 88 car en route to Victory Lane. The deciding factors between the two drivers were the two extra tires Harvick took on his pit stop. Earnhardt was powerless to stop the on-rushing Harvick:
He admitted after the race that he had the inferior car, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
With the win, Harvick all but sealed up his place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. With the new points structure in place, a premium is placed on victories ahead of points. Jeff Gordon has the most points after Saturday's race, but he remains eighth in the standings, since he's yet to record his first win of 2014.
One trip to Victory Lane is seen as the minimum requirement to qualify for the Chase, so two means you can pretty much coast for the rest of the season until the important races start up again.
|2014 Sprint Cup Standings|
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||271||-26||1|
|2014 Sprint Cup Schedule (Races 9-26)|
|Sat, April 26||Toyota Owners 400||Richmond International Raceway||7 p.m.||Fox|
|Sun, May 4||Aaron's 499||Talladega Superspeedway||1 p.m.||Fox|
|Sat, May 10||Kansas 400||Kansas Speedway||7:30 p.m.||Fox|
|Fri, May 16||Sprint Showdown||Charlotte Motor Speedway||7 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|Sat, May 17||NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race||Charlotte Motor Speedway||9 p.m.||Fox Sports 1|
|Sun, May 25||Coca-Cola 600||Charlotte Motor Speedway||6 p.m.||Fox|
|Sun, June 1||FedEx 400||Dover International Speedway||1 p.m.||Fox|
|Sun, June 8||Pocono 400||Pocono Raceway||1 p.m.||TNT|
|Sun, June 15||Quicken Loans 400||Michigan International Speedway||1 p.m.||TNT|
|Sun, June 22||Toyota-Save Mart 350||Sonoma||3 p.m.||TNT|
|Sat, June 28||Quaker State 400||Kentucky Speedway||7:30 p.m.||TNT|
|Sat, July 5||Coke Zero 400||Daytona International Speedway||7:30 p.m.||TNT|
|Sun, July 13||Camping World RV Sales 301||New Hampshire Motor Speedway||1 p.m.||TNT|
|Sun, July 27||Crown Royal 400||Indianapolis Motor Speedway||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sun, Aug. 3||GoBowling.com 400||Pocono Raceway||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sun, Aug. 10||Cheez-It 355 at The Glen||Watkins Glen International||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sun, Aug. 17||Pure Michigan 400||Michigan International Speedway||1 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sat, Aug. 23||Irwin Tools Night Race||Bristol Motor Speedway||7:30 p.m.||ABC|
|Sun, Aug. 31||AdvoCare 500||Atlanta Motor Speedway||7:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|Sat, Sept. 6||Federated Auto Parts 400||Richmond International Raceway||7:30 p.m.||ABC|
Up Next: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway
As a Toyota owner myself, I think I deserve a place in the race. I'd back my 1994 Corolla against anything NASCAR has to offer. Good ole Delores has never let me down before.
In the event I'm prohibited from entering the race, it will probably be enjoyable anyway, I guess.
With Easter next Sunday, NASCAR's taking a break for a week. The green flag for the Toyota Owners 400 won't wave until Saturday, April 26.
Harvick enters as the defending champion. Last year's race was where Juan Pablo Montoya looked to have a win in the bag, until a caution came out with four laps remaining, which resulted in a two-lap overtime period. Harvick finished on top, while Montoya contented himself with fourth.
Poor Montoya. That pretty much sums up his Sprint Cup career.
Having picked up that all-important second victory, Harvick will likely settle for simply a top-five or even top-10 finish next week. He's a made man after Darlington.
It's a designation Kyle Busch would love to have as well. He's fourth in the standings after Saturday night. With a win at Fontana earlier in the season, he needs one more checkered flag to really solidify his place in the Chase.
Having won four times at Richmond between 2009 and 2012, Busch has a great record at the track and will be one of the favorites to win in two weeks.
Perhaps Gordon could get his first trip to Victory Lane and thus shoot to the top of the standings. You'd hate to see the points leader actually fail to make the final Chase because he lacks the prerequisite checkered flags.
No matter the result, the Toyota Owners 400 promises to be a thrilling race from start to finish.