Kevin Harvick played the pit strategy game correctly and made a pass for the lead in the closing laps to win for the first time in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Shortly after losing the lead to Martin Truex Jr. with 43 laps to go, Harvick hit pit road to make his final stop of the race. Combined with a slow stop from race leader Truex two laps later, Harvick cycled ahead of Truex in the running order, putting him behind race leader Brad Keselowski.
With 22 to go, Harvick out-braked him going into Turn 7a and drove on to score the victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
“I am so excited,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at it, getting our first win with Ford, this has been a great journey for us as an organization and team. Kurt winning the Daytona 500 and we have run well. Everybody from Bush, Jimmy John’s and Mobil 1, Outback, Hunt Brothers and everybody. It is a great day. It finally all came together and we were able to not have any cautions there at the end. Rodney had great strategy and I was able to take care of the car and get out front. I felt like the 78 was the car we had to race and then he had problems and from there we were in control.”
It’s his 36th career victory in 590 starts and first at Sonoma Raceway.
“It means a ton to finally check this one off the list,” Harvick added. “I feel like we have been close a couple times but never put it all together. Being so close to home and having raced here so much, this was one that was on the top of the list and today we were able to check that box.”
Teammate Clint Bowyer brought his car home second, while Keselowski rounded out the podium in third.
“You get there back in traffic and you’re so much faster than them you have to check up to save a mistake,” Bowyer said. “You run over them and you don’t mean to; you get frustrated and get a little bit farther behind and a little bit farther behind. I saw the 42 check up and I get into him and I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll both survive this’. And then all of a sudden the 47 was coming through him and I smoked him and hurt the left front. We were fast all weekend. With clean air and a long run, that’s always my strong suit. We got the long run, we just hard to start dead last to get it.”
“The Freightliner Ford was really good today,” Keselowski said. “We didn’t have the qualifying fun we wanted. We had amazing race pace. That’s a credit to everyone at Team Penske. It felt really good. I just wish I could run this race again I think I might have had better car than driver today and I learned a lot. Just an amazing fun day.”
Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-10.
Kyle Larson led the field to the green flag at 3:22 p.m. He held it for the first nine laps before Truex out-braked him going into Turn 11 to take the lead on Lap 10. A caution halfway through the stage shuffled the pit strategies, as is typical with a road course race, resulting in Chris Buescher, who elected not to pit, taking the lead under the caution. Teammate AJ Allmendinger took it from him exiting Turn 10 on Lap 19 and lost it to Truex in Turn 11 on Lap 22, who drove on to win the first stage.
Truex retained the lead until he pitted under the Lap 38 caution, which went to Jimmie Johnson, who drove on to win the second stage.
Denny Hamlin restarted the race with 56 to go as the race leader, having opted not to pit under the second stage caution. Kyle Busch took it from him going into Turn 11 with 47 to go and let Harvick power by him for the lead on the frontstretch two laps later. Truex returned to the front with 43 to go, out-braking Harvick going into Turn 11.
A cycle of green flag stops occurred with 42 to go, with Truex pitting and exiting behind Harvick, setting up the run to the finish.
Earnhardt brought out the first caution on lap 14 when he wheel-hopped, got loose going into Turn 11 and spun out. On the lap 30 restart, Earnhardt, Ryan Blaney and Danica Patrick ran three-wide going through Turn 4a, resulting in Patrick spinning out and getting t-boned by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. On the final lap, Kasey Kahne slammed the outside barrier on the frontstretch.
The race lasted two hours, 46 minutes and 52 seconds at an average speed of 78.710 mph. There were 13 lead changes among 10 different drivers and six cautions for 12 laps.
Larson leaves with a 13-point lead over Truex.