The story of race winners so far this season in the Sprint Cup Series has been dominated by drivers starting up front and leading a lot of laps.
Kevin Harvick did neither of those.
Perhaps that’s why his victory in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway was so surprising and entertaining.
Well, that and the daring move he used to make up six positions in one lap in order to take the lead late in the race.
“For those of you that have been around here for a long time – that restart by him – that was vintage Kevin Harvick,” said Harvick’s crew chief, Gil Martin.
“That was a really, really good restart right there. That was exciting to watch.”
Harvick moved into second behind then-leader Juan Pablo Montoya with 18 of 400 laps remaining and appeared to be gaining ground when a caution came out on Lap 396 for a wreck involving Brian Vickers.
All but three cars – including Montoya and Harvick – elected to stop for new tires. On the restart with only a two-lap overtime remaining, Jeff Burton was the leader. Montoya restarted sixth and Harvick seventh.
Three turns and a dive-bomb move into the corner later, Harvick passed five cars, then drove to the outside of Burton to take the lead just as the final lap began. He easily held off Clint Bowyer to earn his first win of the season.
“I think one thing that led to being so confident in my car on that last restart was our car had been really good on restarts for four or five laps,” Harvick said. Saturday night “the car would turn (and) do all the things I wanted it to. I could be really aggressive with it on the restarts.
“I think I had a better shot to win starting seventh. I don’t think I was going to catch Montoya because he had a little bit better drive up off the corner at that point.”
Harvick, who started 17th, led three laps in the race, bringing his season total to four.
It has not been quite the start Harvick hoped for in his final season driving the No. 29 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing. He had one Top-10 finish heading into Richmond – ninth at Las Vegas.
“We’ve been there all year long. We’ve had fast cars, but seemed like something didn’t go our way. But tonight it did,” team owner Richard Childress said after the race.
“Like Gil said, that was vintage Kevin Harvick. When they dropped that green, he found the hole, drove it through there (and) made it happen.”
The win moves Harvick into ninth in the series standings, 72 behind leader Jimmie Johnson. Through nine races, he is the sixth different race-winner.
The past three Cup races had been won after starting from the pole. Carl Edwards, who started 18th, is the only driver to win a race this season starting worse than Harvick.
“We’ve had speed and we were frustrated. I think all of us were frustrated, not just myself and Gil, but I think everybody on our team,” Harvick said.
“You can talk till you’re blue in the face that your car is running good. People look at the results on Monday and the points, and they weren’t where we thought we should be.
“I think a win goes a long ways.”
Joey Logano finished third, Montoya ended up fourth and Burton fifth. Series points leader Jimmie Johnson finished 12th and holds a 43-point advantage over second-place Edwards.
Bowyer summed up the final laps as only he can.
“It was just one corner. A lot happened down there in that corner. I went from ninth to second. They all washed up (the track), Tony Stewart got (mad), they all crashed but saved it and we went to the front,” he said.
“That’s exactly how we saw it.”