LOUDON, N.H. – All season, the question has been asked: when will Kevin Harvick break through and return to victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series?
Sunday, that question was finally answered, as Harvick successfully snapped the Cup Series dominance of Joe Gibbs Racing with his first victory of the season in Sunday’s Foxwood Casino Resort 301.
The 2014 Cup Series champion, who was nursing a 21-race winless drought and had finished no better than fourth in his first 19 starts this year, stayed out for track position during the day’s final caution with 36 to go, when Kyle Larson ran into trouble in the second turn of the flat, 1.058-mile Granite State Oval.
That decision gave Harvick a lead he would never relinquish. He cleared Erik Jones on the final restart with 29 laps left and then successfully held off a pair of late-race advances by Denny Hamlin on the last lap en route to his second win in a row at the Magic Mile and the 46th of his Cup Series career.
It was also the first win of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing, as well.
Harvick led the last 35 laps in succession, but it wasn’t without a few nervous moments, as Hamlin tried to bump the No. 4 Busch Ford Mustang out of the way in turn one and then charged the outside in turn three coming to the checkered flag trying to get a run before Harvick slammed the door shut.
From there, all Hamlin to do was chase as Harvick came home the winner by .210 seconds.
“I didn’t think we had the best chance to win staying out, but Rodney and those guys made a great call with our Busch Beer National Forest Foundation car here,” noted Harvick. “We had a good car all day; we just never could get track position and stayed out there and ran a lot of good laps. I didn’t want to see their traffic there at the end. It really made my car tight, and he (Hamlin) got to me. He tried to move me out of the way down there, and I knew that was coming as close as he was. So, I just stood on the brakes and I was about half throttle down the back straightaway.
“After that, I was determined he wasn’t going to get under me again, and he drove to the outside of me, and I waited until he got near me, and I just put a wheel on him,” Harvick added. It worked out for us.”
While Harvick wasn’t as confident in the call that ultimately won him the race, his crew chief Rodney Childers had full faith in his driver to be able to hold the field back when it counted.
“I felt like we had had a great car all weekend, and everybody had been doing a good job. We were just in a bad spot there with track position, and I didn’t think we were going to win from where we were at,” said Childers. “Sometimes you have to make those decisions, and Kevin did a great job on the restart to hold his own. Track position was key today, and I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart‑Haas Racing and everybody at Ford that has pushed hard for us to get our cars better and to get back in victory lane.”
Hamlin, who took the lead off a fast pit stop and led 113 straight laps in the final stage before Harvick took control on strategy, admitted afterward that he “knew what he could have done differently” on the final lap to try and get past Harvick for the victory.
Instead, he was forced to settle for second with his No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry.
“I shoved him up a little higher and tried to get him out of the groove,” Hamlin said. “I wanted to just tap him there, but I didn’t want to completely screw him. I at least wanted to give him a fair shot there. Down the backstretch, I kind of let off, and decided to just pass him on the outside and do it the right way … but once I had that big run, he just turned right. I would have done the same thing.
“It was a fun race, and congratulations to Kevin and his team. They made a great call there at the end.”
Erik Jones rebounded from a rocky day, which included a near-penalty on his final pit stop, to finish third. He was followed across the finish line by Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto, who completed a standout weekend with his second top-five finish of the season.
Martin Truex Jr. was sixth, followed by Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and polesitter Brad Keselowski.
Sunday’s race was slowed by nine caution flags and featured 14 lead changes among seven different drivers.