Darlington, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - Kevin Harvick ended the streak of different race winners to start the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season as well as snapped his streak of bad luck over the last several weeks by winning Saturday night's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Harvick started on the pole and led a total of 238 laps but had to rally late in the race for the win. The scheduled 501-mile race at Darlington went into overtime twice, extending it an extra 10 miles and making it the longest event in the 65-year history of this famed track.
Harvick held a 1.8-second lead over Jimmie Johnson when the ninth caution came in the closing laps for fluid that dropped on the track from Joey Logano's car. It set up the first green-white-checkered finish. During the caution, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon each made a two-tire change and came out of the pits 1-4, respectively, while Harvick had a four- tire stop and exited in fifth.
After the restart for the first overtime, Clint Bowyer bumped into the back of Kurt Busch, causing Busch to spin out and slam into the inside wall along the backstretch. Earnhardt had passed Johnson for the lead while Harvick moved into second just before the caution flag waved for Busch's crash.
Earnhardt led the way for the final restart, but Harvick moved around him for the top position with less than two laps to go. Harvick then beat Earnhardt to the finish line by 0.6 seconds to become the first repeat winner in NASCAR's premier series this season. There had been seven different race winners before Darlington.
"I needed those green-white-checkers," Harvick said. "The last one was probably the one I needed the most, just for the fact that I was able to get really good restarts and be able to time the restarts really well. And those guys had older tires and were spinning their tires...It was a good night. It's the Southern 500."
Harvick won at Phoenix International Raceway on March 2 but had finished outside the top-35 in four of the next five races. He placed 42nd in last Monday's rain-delayed race at Texas Motor Speedway due to engine failure on lap 29.
"We've had to overcome a lot through the last several weeks, but we've had really fast race cars," he said. "Just kept our heads down and kept doing what we had to do."
Harvick claimed his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, including his first at Darlington in 18 starts here. He also became the first driver to win from the pole at this track since Dale Jarrett in 1997.
With two victories this season, Harvick is now guaranteed to be among the top-15 winners that will earn a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. His Darlington win moved him from 26th to 22nd in the point standings.
Earnhardt's runner-up finish is his career-best at Darlington. His previous best finish here was fourth (2002 and '08). Earnhardt began this season by winning the Feb. 23 Daytona 500.
"It's a little disappointing to come that close, because I know I don't really run that well here and the opportunities to win are going to be very few compared to other tracks," Earnhardt said. "It hurts a little bit to come that close, because we worked so hard to try to win races. Running second is great, but nobody is going to really remember that. But we're proud of it."
Johnson ended up finishing third, while Kenseth, who won this race one year ago, took the fourth spot. Greg Biffle was fifth.
"Just very happy to finish there in the top-three," Johnson said. "I thought we had a shot at a win. I think if things stayed green after our last pit stop, we had a good chance at it, good shot at it. I'm happy with [crew chief] Chad [Knaus'] decision to go with two [tires], and there were enough cars that took two that it gave us a little bit of a cushion, maybe enough of a cushion to make it four or five laps there."
Starting 26th, Johnson dealt with an ill-handling car early in the race but eventually made his way through the field before taking the lead for the first time on lap 360.
"Solid performance, granted we struggled in qualifying," he added. "We struggled the first run or two of the race, but we got the car turning for me and came to life and really did it the old-fashioned way and kind of drove up through the field before the last pit stop. So proud of the hard work."
Kyle Busch finished sixth, while Gordon wound up in seventh. Kyle Larson, a rookie this season, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman completed the top-10.
Logano, who won at Texas five days ago, passed Harvick on the opening lap and led the first 37 laps. He finished 35th after suffering a damaged front hub.
The series takes its first break of the season next weekend for Easter and then resumes its schedule on Saturday, April 26 at Richmond International Raceway.