RICHMOND, Va. — When the dust settled at Richmond, ‘Ol Happy Harvick was the only driver smiling.
Kevin Harvick plowed through traffic on the final restart, driving from seventh to Victory Lane in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway. He did it with one of those head-scratching “Where did he come from?” drives in which everyone was just hanging on.
“Just shifted gears, hit the pedal and hoped for the best,” Harvick said. “They all went high and I went low. The seas kind of parted there. They didn’t get a very good restart, and my car launched.
“I was able to take it three-wide, those guys all drove it in hard, and I was able to get by the next two. I only had one to go by the time I got to the backstretch.”
It was Harvick’s first Sprint Cup win of the season — he opened the year with a win in the exhibition Sprint Unlimited at Daytona — and his 20th career victory. It put Chevrolet and Richard Childress Racing in Victory Lane, snapping a two-race winning streak by Joe Gibbs Racing.
“That was vintage Kevin Harvick right there,” crew chief Gil Martin said.
Juan Pablo Montoya was trying to hold off Harvick for his first win since 2010 when the caution came out with four laps remaining.
“I was like, ‘Really? Really?’” Montoya said about the caution. He pounded his fist on the steering wheel when the yellow flag waved.
Montoya left the decision to pit or stay out to crew chief Chris Heroy, who gamely tried to calm the driver and convince him he could still win the race. He brought Montoya down pit road, a decision most of the field followed as everyone traded track position for tires.
Both Montoya and Harvick took four tires, which put them sixth and seventh on the final restart. Harvick teammate Jeff Burton was the leader after Burton, Jamie McMurray and AJ Allmendinger didn’t pit and stayed on the track.
When the race resumed, the first three cars on old tires couldn’t hold off traffic, creating mayhem through the field. Harvick rocketed his way through the pack, dragging Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano with him.
Bowyer wound up second, Logano third and Montoya had to settle for fourth.
Montoya, who is off to a horrific start to the season with six finishes of 20th or worse in the first eight races, was comforted with his first top-10 finish of the season.
“That is what we needed,” he said. “I felt like last week we had a top-five car as well, but not quite a car to win. I think this weekend, we came here and tested, and the guys did an amazing job, and we had a good car all weekend.”
Tony Stewart restarted in fifth, but was bumped out of the way by Kurt Busch and faded to 18th. Stewart angrily traded bumps with Busch on the cool-down lap, even trying to force him into the wall, before the two drivers headed to the garage. Once back at their haulers Stewart and Busch shouted at each other over crew members, with Busch claiming the final two laps “were a free-for-all.”
“We were hoping to be on the right sequence at the end,” Busch said. “Some guys had older tires. Some guys had newer tires. We were in the mixed. A green-white-checkered at the end, it is just chaos. Cars are everywhere. People are beating and banging and shoving each other out of the way. It’s pretty wild.”
Burton wound up fifth to give RCR two cars in the top-five. Carl Edwards was sixth in the highest finishing Ford, and Matt Kenseth, who started from the pole and led a race-high 140 laps, was seventh for JGR.
Kenseth came into the race on the heels of stifling NASCAR sanctions after an illegal part was found in last week’s race-winning engine. NASCAR essentially stripped Kenseth and JGR of everything but the trophy, but the team responded with another strong showing.
He felt he could have finished higher if not for the frantic final restart.
“Just being on the outside and (Busch) drove up through there and knocked my whole side off and put me in the marbles,” Kenseth said. “Just two laps, everybody is going to go for it and go for every hole they’ve got.”
Aric Almirola was eighth for his third consecutive top-10 finish, and Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top 10.