Kevin Harvick Brings Ford to Victory Lane in NASCAR’s Return at Darlington Raceway

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Darlington Raceway, Darlington, SC — May 17, 2020

The eyes of not just race fans, but the entire sports world are on Darlington Raceway as NASCAR brings live sports back after a 71-day shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. A host of precautions have been put in place for today’s race including no fans in the stands. The Real Heros 400 today will be under intense scrutiny as other sporting organizations watch to see how NASCAR handles their restart.

A NASCAR official with a mask looks on prior to the NASCAR Cup Series The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 17, 2020, in Darlington, South Carolina. NASCAR resumes the season after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19). / NASCAR Photo

The storylines are numerous. No practice or qualifying, the starting lineup was determined by a blind draw. Ryan Newman returns to the #6 Ford Mustang after his horrendous crash at Daytona in the opening race of the 2020 season. Newman drew the 21st starting position. Matt Kenseth takes over the seat in the #42 car after Kyle Larson was suspended by NASCAR and fired by Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur during an iRacing event. Kenseth starts 12th today.

Race Info

Today’s race is set for 293 laps around the “track too tough to tame.” Stages will be run in intervals of 90/95/108 laps. Brad Keselowski starts on the pole. Kyle Busch was supposed to start in fourth place, but after failing pre-race inspection twice he will drop to the rear of the field for the start. Byron, Michigan native, Erik Jones, won in September the last time the Cup Series visited Darlington Raceway. Jones will start in the 20th position.

Brad Keselowski, Driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, takes the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 17, 2020, in Darlington, South Carolina. NASCAR resumes the season after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Start

Keselowski drove down into Turn 1 followed by Kevin Harvick. It did not take long for things to get crazy as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. exited Turn 2, dropped down to the bottom of the track to go four-wide, and got spun into the inside retaining wall. Damage to both ends of the racecar sent him to the garage and out of the race.

The green flag waved to restart the race on Lap 7 with almost the entire field falling into a single file ribbon around the track. Second place Kevin Harvick complained of a vibration early, still, he was able to retain the position as drivers settled in to make laps.

NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for Lap 30, allowing crews to check tires and make adjustments on pit road. Due to the special circumstances of the race, the top 20 cars pit first, there is no race off pit road. Drivers will return to the position they held when the caution waved, the next lap the remainder of the field hits pit road, the same positions are held when they return to the track. This allowed race teams to take some extra time to make sure everything is right with the cars.

The fuel window is around 70 laps, but tire wear is likely to bring teams in sooner. A minimum of one pitstop will occur during each stage of the race.

Stage 1

After the restart drivers primarily stayed in line, there were some passes for position. Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson drove around Keselowski on Lap 45 giving the race a new leader in Bowman who won earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway in California.

With nine laps to go in Stage 1, Jimmie Johnson drove underneath Bowman to take the lead. Two laps later, William Byron also passed Bowman as tires began to go away. On the final lap of Stage 1, Johnson ran into the back of Chris Buescher’s’ car as Buescher checked up slightly coming off the corner. The wreck gave Byron the Stage win and sent Johnson to the garage, done for the day.

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver

1

24

William Byron

2

11

Denny Hamlin

3

88

Alex Bowman

4

4

Kevin Harvick*

5

2

Brad Keselowski*

6

10

Aric Almirola*

7

14

Clint Bowyer*

8

8

Tyler Reddick

9

6

Ryan Newman*

10

9

Chase Elliott

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

Kevin Harvick won the race off of pit road and was the leader at the restart after the stage ending caution. With new tires and adjustments, drivers came out looking more ready to race. More position swapping ensued until on Lap 110 William Byron bobbled and hit the wall in Turn 3. He suffered some damage to the right side of his car, the crash brought out the caution again with everyone returning to pit road for new tires. Byron lost four laps in the pits having body damage repaired, but was able to return to the race.

Harvick returned to the track with the lead. As things settled out after the restart, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Denny Hamlin, and Keselowski were the remainder of the top 5. On Lap 123 Daniel Suarez cut down a right rear tire and spun causing the yellow to be displayed for the 5th time.

As a result of being the series points leader, Kevin Harvick had the first choice of pit stalls. His selection of the pit box at the end of the pit road has helped him maintain the lead when exiting after pit stops. He again led the pack back to the restart.

Stage 2 Finish

Debris on the track, a banner came loose off the track wall, brought out the caution again with 31 laps to go in Stage 2, allowing everyone to pit and get fresh tires for the run to the green and white checkered flag. With 20 laps to go in the Stage, the top 5 were Harvick, Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, and Kurt Busch.

Brad Keselowski, Driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, leads Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light YOURFACEHERE Ford, during the NASCAR Cup Series The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 17, 2020, in Darlington, South Carolina. NASCAR resumes the season after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19). / NASCAR Photo

Christopher Bell spun and brought out the caution setting up a real sprint to the finish. When the race resumed with 8 laps to go Keselowski was in the lead with Truex in second. Brad won the stage, Bowman moved into the second position.

POS CAR DRIVER
1 2 Brad Keselowski*
2 88 Alex Bowman
3 19 Martin Truex Jr.
4 4 Kevin Harvick*
5 14 Clint Bowyer*
6 1 Kurt Busch
7 37 Ryan Preece
8 22 Joey Logano*
9 11 Denny Hamlin
10 20 Erik Jones

*Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

Bowman won the race off pit road followed by Keselowski, Harvick, Truex, and Kurt Busch to begin the Final Stage. Harvick gave Keselowski a good push into Turn 1 giving his Ford Mustang teammate the lead. Harvick was unable to squeeze in front of Bowman for 2nd place and had to fall back into line in the 4th position.

On Lap 211, Bell got into the back of Buecher causing the #17 car to spin. Joey Logano had just entered pit road with a loose wheel, his crew flagged him past their pit stall and back onto the track to avoid going a lap down. Repairing the issue put Logano back in the pack, but much better than going down a lap.

Harvick nosed out Keselowski for the lead off pit road, Truex and Bowman start behind them at for the restart with 74 laps to go. At least one more pit stop will be required to finish the race.

Late Caution

Ryan Newman spun in Turn 1 with 41 laps to go, bringing out the 10th caution flag of the day. It appeared Newman had a tire issue, he was able to keep the car off the wall and avoid damage. The yellow flag will give everyone the opportunity to pit and fuel up for the run to the finish.

Harvick led off pit road followed by Bowman, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, and Kyle Busch. The race restarted with 34 laps to go. Harvick and Bowman raced side-by-side for two laps before Harvick prevailed.

Kevin Harvick Leads at Darlington Raceway / NASCAR Photo

Kyle Busch came to pit road with 27 laps to go for four tires complaining of a vibration. He went a lap down and likely out of contention for the win. Erik Jones moved into the top 5, hoping for a repeat win at “the lady in black.”

The Finish

Jones developed a vibration and began to drop positions with Hamlin and Truex passing with under 10 to go. Harvick held onto the win for his first victory of the year. Bowman finishing 2nd. Kurt Busch took 3rd, Elliott 4th, and Hamlin 5th.

Other notable finishes. Rookies Tyler Reddick and John Hunter Nemechek finished 7th and 9th respectively. Jones took 8th, and Matt Kenseth ended his return to NASCAR with a 10th place showing. Keselowski took 13th, Ryan Newman 15th, Logano finished in 18th and Kyle Busch earned a 26th place finish.

Results of the Real Heros 400 from Darlington Raceway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 4 Kevin Harvick 293
2 88 Alex Bowman 2.154 293
3 1 Kurt Busch 3.355 293
4 9 Chase Elliott 4.361 293
5 11 Denny Hamlin 4.671 293
6 19 Martin Truex Jr. 4.882 293
7 8 Tyler Reddick 10.734 293
8 20 Erik Jones 10.738 293
9 38 John Hunter Nemechek 10.912 293
10 42 Matt Kenseth 14.180 293
11 3 Austin Dillon 14.444 293
12 10 Aric Almirola 18.064 293
13 2 Brad Keselowski 19.306 293
14 21 Matt DiBenedetto 19.737 293
15 6 Ryan Newman 20.084 293
16 12 Ryan Blaney 22.312 293
17 14 Clint Bowyer 23.107 293
18 22 Joey Logano 23.773 293
19 13 Ty Dillon 23.970 293
20 37 Ryan Preece 24.465 293
21 43 Bubba Wallace 25.935 293
22 41 Cole Custer 26.152 293
23 34 Michael McDowell 27.866 293
24 95 Christopher Bell 29.186 293
25 96 Daniel Suarez -1 292
26 18 Kyle Busch -1 292
27 15 Brennan Poole -1 292
28 27 JJ Yeley -2 291
29 77 Reed Sorenson -2 291
30 51 Joey Gase -4 289
31 32 Corey LaJoie -4 289
32 17 Chris Buescher -6 287
33 66 Timmy Hill -7 286
34 7 Josh Bilicki -7 286
35 24 William Byron -14 279
36 0 Quin Houff -156 137
37 53 Garrett Smithley -166 127
38 48 Jimmie Johnson -204 89
39 78 BJ McLeod -280 13
40 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -293 0