Harvick charges late to Win Sprint Cup title

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Kevin Harvick can now call himself a Sprint Cup Series champion after passing fellow title rival Denny Hamlin to win the Ford EcoBoost 400 Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The 38-year-old from Bakersfield, California fought and battled for 13 seasons, falling short of winning the grandest prize in NASCAR each time until now. He also becomes the fourth champion in as many years, the first under the advanced Chase format.

The new champion also joins an elite class, alongside Brad Keselowski and Bobby Labonte as the only drivers to have won both a Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series title.

The pace was furious for much of the race, with pole-sitter Jeff Gordon leading 161 laps, putting his Hendrick Motorsports strength on full display. The Championship Four of Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Hamlin, and Harvick, made their own different cases for the top spot for all 267 laps.

At one point all four drivers ran in the top five.

With 20 to go, caution came out and changed everything. At this point Hamlin stayed out and was running second behind Gordon, while Harvick led Logano, and Newman to pit road. Harvick’s pit crew elected to put four new tires on the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet. The No. 31 Caterpillar team equipped Newman with two right sides, helping him gain track position and would restart from the fourth spot. Logano’s team had trouble on their stop however, as the car fell off the jack, costing the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford valuable time and dropping him to the back of the pack.

The field came to the green for the following restart and chaos ensued.

Heading into turn one, the cars spanned as much as five-wide. Hamlin jumped to the lead, Newman was right on Gordon’s door, and Harvick charged up through the field, going four-wide at times to get up to seventh.

Caution came out once again just four laps later for a wreck in turn one.

Gordon pitted, moving the No. 31 on the front row next to Hamlin.

The race restarted on lap 258, Newman and Hamlin fought side-by-side for the lead. Harvick came from a couple of rows back to shadow the duo. On lap 260, the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet charged past both drivers. As it looked like the ‘Bakersfield Basher’ was going to run away with the race win and the championship the yellow flag would wave once again.

The race restarted with three laps remaining and the battle was on between Harvick, largely considered the favorite, and Newman, the underdog that barely made the Championship Four. In a twist of irony both drivers were battling teams they drove for last season, Newman with Stewart-Haas Racing, and Harvick with Richard Childress Racing.

Newman and Harvick carried their machines into turns one and two, Hamlin faded as it became a two-horse race. The No. 31 slipped off turn four coming to the white flag. This gave Harvick a clear path to the checkered flag as he took the 28th Sprint Cup Series win and the championship.

“I was just going to hold the pedal down and hope for the best. I knew our car was fast,” the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion said when asked about the last restart.

Harvick became the 30th champion in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history, and gave credit to past champions with the week leading up to the season finale.

“If it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, I would have been in bad trouble this week. Those guys really helped me get through the week. Today was fine. I was a little anxious both days of practice, overdriving the car and not doing thing I needed to do. After every practice, Jimmie was in there and in our team debriefs Tony was constantly telling me just to go race and that it’s just another race. Today it was. It all worked out. I’m so proud of everybody.”

Hamlin ended up finishing seventh, with 24-year-old Joey Logano ending up 16th.

Logano had the opportunity to give team owner Roger Penske his second Sprint Cup title in three seasons, and also a shot at history by becoming the first team owner in the history of motorsports to win an IndyCar and Sprint Cup championship in the same season.

“I did not have good emotions in the car,” said Logano about the miscue on the last pit stop. “I was pretty pissed off if that is an emotion. You knew your chances went down a lot. I didn’t say it was over. We didn’t give up. At that point I was trying to pass as many cars as we could and really hoped those guys wrecked each other. That is all I had going for me at that point. When you are that far back, 24th or 25th, you can’t make that up with 12 to go or whatever it was. It is just too hard to make that up. All you can do is try. It was an amazing opportunity to be here and it would be dumb to give up. You keep trying and hopefully something happens. We put ourselves in that boat to have to be able to pull that out. It was too hard.”

Ford EcoBoost 400 Race Results
1. Kevin Harvick
2. Ryan Newman
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Paul Menard
5. Jamie McMurray
6. Matt Kenseth
7. Denny Hamlin
8. Clint Bowyer
9. Jimmie Johnson
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Kurt Busch
12. Kasey Kahne
13. Kyle Larson
14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
15. Justin Allgaier
16. Joey Logano
17. Martin Truex Jr.
18. Danica Patrick
19. Aric Almirola
20. Casey Mears
21. Michael McDowell
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
23. Brian Vickers
24. Reed Sorenson
25. Austin Dillon
26. Cole Whitt
27. Marcos Ambrose
28. Brian Scott
29. Landon Cassill
30. David Ragan
31. David Gilliland
32. Josh Wise
33. Alex Bowman
34. Carl Edwards
35. Michael Annett
36. Brett Moffitt
37. JJ Yeley
38. Blake Koch
39. Kyle Busch
40. AJ Allmendinger
41. Greg Biffle
42. Trevor Bayne
43. Tony Stewart

Image: Sean Gardner/Getty Images via NASCAR

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Joey Barnes is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Motorsports Tribune. He has covered auto racing since 2013 that has spanned from Formula 1 to NASCAR, with coverage on IndyCar. Additionally, his work has appeared on Racer, IndyCar.com and Autoweek magazine. In 2017, he was recognized with an award in Spot News Writing by the National Motorsports Press Association.

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