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Racing Resumes: Harvick wins NASCAR Cup at Darlington

Racing Resumes: Harvick wins NASCAR Cup at Darlington

Darlington, SC, May 17/20 (GRW): It seemed like it had been forever since the last NASCAR Cup race was run at Phoenix back in early March. But, this weekend, the Cup teams turned out for a closed-door (no spectators) race at Darlington and put on a show for the television audience. The lack of spectators gave it the feel of an exhibition race but this race, like the many more closed-door races to follow through to the end of June at least, will count in full towards the championship results at the end of the year.

Kevin Harvick stated from sixth in the starting lineup but he quickly moved up to second place behind Keselowski. He did not take the lead until the second caution at the end of the first Stage when his number one pit stall location gave him the jump on the competition. After that, he led 159 of the race’s 293 laps in a convincing demonstration of his command of this race. In the end, he held off Alex Bowman, who had led 41 laps in his Hendrick entry and who had to settle for second place two seconds back. With this kind of win under difficult circumstances, Harvick has to be rated as the one to beat as racing resumes this year.

This was an unusual race event in that, among the many restrictive rules applied to it, the teams had to put their cars on the grid without a single lap of practice. Hence the starting lineup was determined by a complicated random draw procedure which put Brad Keselowski on the pole. So, of course, Keselowski led initially – for the first 44 laps through the competition caution which came at Lap 30..

Bowman took the lead from Keselowski on lap 45 but then Jimmie Johnson got past him and it looked like he was going to win the first Stage until, on the last lap before the Stage end, he nudged up alongside Chris Buescher and he lost control spinning down into the inside wall and his race was over. William Byron, who had taken over second place only five laps before, was the lucky recipient of Johnson’s trouble and he won the first Stage.

Harvick jumped the field coming off this pit stop and he had the lead over Bowman while Byron fell back to fourth. Byron’s luck turned sour a few laps later when a loose wheel sent him up into the outer wall where his car sustained quite a bit of damage – bringing out the fourth caution of the day.

Harvick continued to lead through the next caution and he was still in front when the seventh yellow flew after Christopher Bell crashed. This time, Keselowski won the race out of the pits while Harvick’s crew stumbled, dropping him back to eighth for the restart. With Stage 2 ending only a few laps later, this set up Keselowski to win this Stage. Keselowski took the lead when it went green again and he led until the next caution (number 9) which came when Buescher tangled with Bell.

This time, Harvick’s pit stall location paid off and he retook the lead ahead of Keselowski coming out of the pits. Bowman quickly pushed past into second and Keselowski faded back several places as the laps ran down. Harvick held onto the lead for the remaining 78 laps while Bowman stayed close, taking second right behind him.

Kurt Busch was third in the No. 1 Ganassi Chevrolet, Chase Elliott was fourth in his No. 9 Hendrick Chevrolet (making it, with Bowman, two Hendrick cars finishing in the top five). Denny Hamlin, whose daughter was not at the track this time, was fifth in the Gibbs Toyota.

PHOTO NCS DAR1 GreenFlag 051720Brad Keselowski takes the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR resumes the season with empty grandstands after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

After the race, Harvick noted that the place was quiet because the grandstands were all empty. “It doesn’t seem real and I think as you look at Darlington I think as you look at the things that happened this weekend I really thought that it would definitely play into our hand just because our guys are so good at hitting the car off the truck for the most part. We put a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of studying, a lot of meetings and just have to thank everybody at the shop who has built all these cars and just, man, I’m excited. It is weird just because there’s nobody up there. I’m speechless.

“I was really happy that we had the first pit stall. That really played into our advantage. Track position was huge. Our Ford was fast enough on the restarts to be able to fight those guys off and then once I got in a rhythm I could start to pull away, but it was definitely close when we start and I think that was our goal -- just not to be in right field.”

Ryan Newman, who had a big crash in the No. 6 Roush Mustang at Daytona has recovered from his injuries and he was back here at Darlington. Unfortunately he spun out close to the end of the race; he continued to finish in 15th place, still on the lead lap. Matt Kenseth, who last raced a Cup car in 2018, was seconded by Chip Ganassi to replace Kyle Larson in the No. 42 car. He gave a good account for himself, finishing in tenth place after running up there most of the day.

Click HERE for the results of “The Real Heros 400" at Darlington

The next NASCAR Cup race will be run in just four days from now – a 311-mile race under the lights right back here at Darlington on Wednesday, May 20.

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