Harvick wins the 2020 Cup Playoff opener at Darlington Raceway

Kevin Harvick capped off a thrilling triple-header Labor Day weekend of racing at Darlington Raceway and opened the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by winning the Cook Out Southern 500. Harvick’s opportunity of winning came with 15 laps remaining following a late incident involving leaders Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott while Harvick was back in third place. With Truex pitting and Elliott falling off the pace, Harvick was able to snatch the lead and fend off a late charge from Austin Dillon to notch another victory of this season and continue his quest for a second Cup championship.

The starting lineup was based on four statistical categories: current owner standings, the driver’s result from a previous Cup race, the team owner’s result from a previous Cup race and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Chase Elliott started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Denny Hamlin.

Prior to the race, Playoff contender Ryan Blaney dropped to the rear of the field and his crew chief Todd Gordon was suspended for the main event due to an improperly mounted ballast discovered on Blaney’s No. 12 Menards/Maytag Ford Mustang during pre-race inspection. Blaney’s team was also docked 10 driver/owner points as a result of the ballast, leaving him with a one-point deficit to start this year’s Playoffs. With Gordon out, Travis Geisler, Team Penske’s competition director, served as an interim crew chief for Blaney at Darlington. In addition, Playoff contender Austin Dillon and Joey Gase dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments along with Ross Chastain due to a driver change.


American Muscle

When the green flag waved and the 2020 Cup Playoffs commenced, Elliott and Hamlin battled dead even through Turns 1 and 2 before Elliott managed to clear Hamlin entering Turn 3 and come back around to lead the first lap.

With Elliott in the lead, teammate Alex Bowman moved into second place followed by Martin Truex Jr. while Hamlin fell back to fourth in front of William Byron and Kevin Harvick.

Five laps into the race, 14 of the 16 Playoff contenders were running in the top-14 positions on the track led by teammates Elliott and Bowman. Behind, Jimmie Johnson was the highest-running non-title contender in 15th place. Way behind, Blaney was in 26th while Austin Dillon was in 31st.

Five laps later and following the first 10 laps of the race, Elliott was still leading by nearly a second over teammate Bowman while Truex, Hamlin and Byron were in the top five. Harvick was settled in sixth place followed by teammate Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano. The Busch brothers were in 11th and 12th while Johnson moved up to 13th ahead of Matt DiBenedetto and Cole Custer. Behind, Bubba Wallace was in 17th behind Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones was in 18th, Matt Kenseth was in 20th behind Chris Buescher, John Hunter Nemechek was in 22nd, Christopher Bell was in 25th and Ryan Newman was in 27th. Blaney was in 21st while Austin Dillon made his way into the top 30.

By Lap 20, Elliott extended his advantage to more than a second over Truex, who passed Bowman to move into second place. Behind, Harvick and Hamlin battled for fifth place while Keselowski moved up to seventh place. 

On Lap 25, the competition caution flew with Elliott and his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE at the front of the pack ahead of Truex, Bowman, Byron and Hamlin while Harvick, Keselowski, Almirola, Logano and Bowyer were in the top 10. By then, Blaney was scored in 21st while Austin Dillon was in 29th.

Under the competition caution, the lead lap competitors pitted and Elliott retained the lead after exiting pit road first by a nose over Truex followed by Bowman, Hamlin, Harvick and Byron. Prior to the restart and under the Choose Rule lane effect, Truex elected to restart in fourth place and in the second row on the outside lane while teammates Bowman and Byron moved up to restart in second and third. Logano and Hamlin restarted on the third row while teammates Bowyer and Harvick restarted on the fourth row

When the race restarted under green on Lap 31, Elliott retained the lead after clearing Bowman’s No. 88 ChevyGoods.com/Truck Hero Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE in Turn 3. Behind, Truex charged his way back to second place followed by teammate Hamlin while Bowman settled in fourth place in front of Harvick. Byron fell back to sixth ahead of Keselowski while Johnson and Logano battled for eighth.

By Lap 35, Elliott and his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet were ahead by nearly three-tenths of a second over Truex. Behind, Harvick moved up to fourth and Johnson was gaining ground on Keselowski for seventh place. A few laps later, Byron passed teammate Bowman for fifth place.

With the first 40 laps of the race complete, Elliott was still leading by half a second over Truex and after leading every lap thus far. In addition, all 16 Playoff contenders were scored in the top 20 on track with nine in the top 10.

A few laps later, Playoff contenders Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer made contact, where Busch ran into the back of Bowyer’s rear bumper and loosened him up in Turn 1 before passing him for 10th place. With Kyle up to 10th, Kurt Busch was in 12th place in between Bowyer and Erik Jones.

Following the first 50 laps of the race, Elliott extended his advantage by more than a second over Truex. Elliott’s three teammates from Hendrick Motorsports (Byron, Bowman and Johnson) were running in fifth, sixth and seventh while Harvick and Hamlin were in fourth and fifth.

By Lap 60 and with the leaders catching and making their way past lapped traffic, it was still Elliott with the lead by more than a second over Truex followed by Harvick and Hamlin, both of whom continued to battle intensely for position. Johnson, meanwhile, continued to march towards the front as he was in sixth place ahead of Bowman and reeling in on teammate Byron for more while Keselowski and Logano battled for eighth place. Behind, Kurt Busch and Bowyer overtook Kyle Busch for 10th and 11th. Blaney and Austin Dillon were in 16th and 18th while Almirola, DiBenedetto and Custer were back in 15th, 19th and 21st.

Not long after, Austin Dillon made a pit stop under green due to a flat right rear tire. When the race surpassed the Lap 70 mark and with Elliott still ahead of Truex with the lead, a few competitors like Nemechek and Newman pitted. In addition, Kyle Busch pulled his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry to pit road for a pit stop. Shortly after, pit stops under green for the leaders continued as Bowman pitted. When the pit stops concluded, Elliott retained the lead ahead of Truex.

The second caution flew past the Lap 80 mark due to debris on the track that started when Keselowski cut a right-front tire following contact with Almirola before he made contact with the outside wall near Turn 3, thus sustaining damage to the right side of his No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang.

Under caution, nearly the entire field led by Elliott pitted for service, fresh tires and fuel. Following the stops, Truex emerged with the lead after exiting pit road in first place followed by teammate Hamlin and Elliott. By then, Keselowski lost a lap to the leaders while his No. 2 crew went to work to repair the damage to the car. Back on the track, Kurt Busch and Wallace moved up to first and second when both opted to remain on track on old tires. 

With the race restarting on Lap 86, Kurt Busch and Truex battled dead even through the first three turns before Truex and his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry cleared Busch’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE entering Turn 4 to take the lead. While Wallace dropped out of the top five and was clinging inside the top 10, Kurt Busch retained second place followed by Elliott, Johnson, Hamlin, Bowman, Logano and Byron.

When the race reached its 100-lap mark, Truex was leading by more than two seconds over Elliott and Johnson. Kurt Busch was back in fifth in between Hamlin and Bowman while Byron was in eighth behind Logano. Harvick was in ninth ahead of Kyle Busch and Jones while Blaney was in 13th in between Bowyer and Reddick. Bowyer, Austin Dillon and Custer were in 12th, 16th and 17th while DiBenedetto was back in 26th. Keselowski was back in 31st place and a lap behind following his incident.

Five laps later and with 10 laps remaining in the first stage, Johnson and his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, muscled his way into second place after passing teammate Elliott a lap earlier in Turn 4. 

Though Johnson had a fast race car and started to reel in Truex for the lead, Truex was able to stabilize his advantage by four seconds and win the first stage on Lap 115 for his third stage victory of the season. Johnson settled in second followed by Elliott, Hamlin and Kurt Busch while Bowman, Logano, Byron, Kyle Busch and Harvick were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break and with the skies setting into darkness, the leaders pitted for service and adjustments with Truex retaining the lead after exiting pit road in first place. Following the pit stops, Elliott moved up to second followed by Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Logano and Kyle Busch while Johnson fell all the way back to eighth place following a slow pit stop.

The second stage started on Lap 121 with Truex and Hamlin on the front row followed by Logano, Elliott, Johnson and Kurt Busch while Blaney made an unscheduled pit stop prior to the restart to address a flat left-rear tire. At the front, Truex managed to clear Hamlin entering Turn 2 to retain the lead while Elliott moved up to second place. 

By Lap 130, Truex was ahead by nearly eight-tenths of a second over Elliott with Hamlin trailing by more than a second. Johnson was in seventh behind Kyle Busch while Harvick was in ninth in between Bowman and Jones. Kurt Busch and Logano were in fourth and fifth while Byron was in 12th in between Reddick and Bowyer. Way behind the leaders, Blaney was in 31st and two laps behind.

Ten laps later and on Lap 140, Truex was still ahead by more than two seconds over Elliott, who had made contact with the wall a few laps earlier but continued to run on the track in second place. Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Logano were in the top five while Johnson was in sixth place ahead of Kyle Busch. 

Another eight laps later, Hamlin and Kurt Busch overtook Elliott to move into second and third. By then Truex’s advantage grew to more than three seconds.

Just past the Lap 155 mark, Harvick made a pit stop under green. Nearly 15 laps later and on Lap 170, Truex was still ahead by more than four seconds over Kurt Busch followed by Hamlin while Elliott and Logano battled for fourth place ahead of Johnson.

By then, pit stops under green started to commence as DiBenedetto pitted along with Corey LaJoie, Ryan Preece, Johnson, Newman, Christopher Bell, Bowman, Jones, Custer, Bowyer, Hamlin and Kyle Busch. When the pit stops under green cycled through, Harvick emerged with the lead by eight seconds over Truex with Johnson back up to third place.

Just shy of the Lap 180 mark, the caution returned when Wallace got loose and spun entering Turn 4. Under caution, the leaders led by Harvick pitted, but Truex emerged with the lead after exiting ahead of Harvick on pit road in first place. Following the pit stops, Custer was sent to the rear for speeding on pit road.

With the race reaching Lap 185 and past its halfway mark, the race restarted under green. At the front, Truex muscled his way back to the lead after passing Hamlin in Turn 2 while Harvick moved up to second place by Turns 3 and 4. With Hamlin in third, Johnson was in fourth followed by Bowman, Kyle Busch, Jones and Austin Dillon. Byron was in 11th behind Kurt Busch while Elliott was back in 14th behind Logano and Matt Kenseth.

Nearly five laps later and on Lap 190, Truex was ahead by half a second over Harvick with Hamlin trailing by less than a second. By then, 12 of the 16 Playoff contenders were running inside the top 15, with eight being scored in the top 10. In addition, Penske teammates Keselowski and Blaney, both of whom raced their way back on the lead lap under the last caution involving Wallace, were in 19th and 24th.

Ten laps later and on Lap 200, Truex stabilized his lead by seven-tenths of a second over Harvick with Hamlin trailing by less than two seconds. By then, Wallace took his No. 43 Cash App Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the garage due to mechanical issues.

Another 20 laps later and on Lap 220, Truex was still ahead by more than four seconds over teammate Hamlin with Harvick, Johnson, Bowman and Kyle Busch trailing by six or more seconds.

For the remainder of the second stage, Truex was able to extend his advantage by more than five seconds to claim the stage victory on Lap 230 as he claimed his fourth stage win of the season. Hamlin settled in second followed by Harvick, Bowman and Johnson, who made late contact with the outside wall, while Kyle Busch, Jones, Austin Dillon, Bowyer and Kurt Busch were scored in the top 10. By then, 24 of the 39-car field were running on the lead lap. In addition, DiBenedetto was pinned a lap behind the leaders in 27th place while Custer was in 24th, the final car on the lead lap.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Hamlin emerged the lead over teammate Truex following his pit stop. Harvick exited in third place followed by Bowman, Kyle Busch, Jones, Austin Dillon, Johnson and Elliott.

With 132 laps remaining and the lights shining around the track, the race restarted under green with Hamlin and Bowman on the front row. At the start, a stack-up behind occurred that left Logano with damage to the rear end of his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, where he was hit by Corey LaJoie.

Following an intense battle for the lead, Hamlin and his No. 11 Federal Express Toyota Camry cleared the field with the lead in Turn 3 followed by teammate Truex. Harvick also moved up to third place while Bowman fell back to fourth. While Joe Gibbs Racing’s Jones and Kyle Busch moved up to fifth and sixth, Johnson was stuck in a battle with Kurt Busch for seventh place. In addition, Bowyer was starting to battle Austin Dillon for ninth place with teammate Almirola joining the party.

With 123 laps remaining, the caution returned when John Hunter Nemechek cut a right-front tire and made contact with the outside wall in Turn 1 with sparks flying out from his No. 38 Citgard Ford Mustang. Under cautions, the leaders returned to pit road for service and Truex reassumed the lead following his pit stop ahead of teammate Hamlin with Kyle Busch, Harvick and Johnson scored in the top five. During the stops, Bowman dropped from fourth to 14th due to a jack issue during his pit stop. In addition, Logano and Blaney pitted to have the damage on their respective Fords addressed. Under caution, Bell took his No. 95 Rheem Toyota Camry to the garage due to a mechanical issue.

The race restarted under green with 117 laps remaining and with teammates Truex and Kyle Busch on the front row. At the start, Truex launched ahead with the lead through Turn 1 before Busch initiated a challenge in Turn 2. Truex, however, was able to clear Busch through Turns 3 and 4 with the lead while Hamlin pulled a crossover move in an attempt to pass Busch for second place. 

Behind the three Joe Gibbs Racing competitors, Harvick and Kurt Busch started to reel in Hamlin for third place while Bowyer was in sixth and Elliott moved up to seventh ahead of teammate Johnson. Jones was in ninth, Almirola was in 10th ahead of teammate Custer and Keselowski rallied his way back into 12th place.

With 100 laps remaining, Truex was out in front by more than a second over teammate Kyle Busch with teammate Hamlin trailing by three seconds. By then 12 of the 16 Playoff contenders were running no lower than 14th, with eight scored in the top 10. Meanwhile, Logano was back in 17th while teammate Blaney was back in 24th. In addition, Byron was in 18th while DiBenedetto was in 20th.

Ten laps later and with 90 laps remaining, Truex’s lead grew to nearly two seconds over teammate Kyle Busch with teammate Hamlin still lurking behind by less than four seconds. Harvick and Kurt Busch stabilized their spots in the top five followed by Bowyer, who reported voltage issues to his No. 14 PEAK Ford Mustang. Elliott was in seventh ahead of Jones while Johnson was in ninth ahead of Almirola, Austin Dillon, Keselowski, Custer and Bowman.

With approximately 85 laps remaining, Johnson made a pit stop under green. Shortly after, Austin Dillon pitted. Then, pit stops under green for most of the lead lap competitors commenced as Bowman, Blaney, Logano and Harvick pitted. During the stops, Ty Dillon was assessed a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road.

With 70 laps remaining, Truex was still out in front by more than two seconds over teammate Kyle Busch and more than three seconds over teammate Hamlin. By then, the top-six competitors led by Truex had yet to pit.

Four laps later, Bowyer pitted under green. Shortly after, Keselowski pitted. With 60 laps remaining, Truex and teammate Kyle Busch pitted while Hamlin assumed the lead. Another lap later, Hamlin missed the pit road entrance when he struggled to turn his car below the apron in Turn 3 towards the entrance, was hit by Johnson and was unable to slow his car in time to make the turn to the pit road entrance. As a result, he had to cycle around the track for another circuit before he could enter pit road successfully and pit for service. The late misfortune dropped Hamlin out of race-winning contention.

Following the stops from the Joe Gibbs Racing competitors, Harvick was back at the front by less than a second over Elliott and coming to 55 laps remaining. Nearly eight laps later, just as Elliott passed Harvick for the lead, the caution flew due to debris on the backstretch. Under caution, the competitors on the lead lap pitted and Elliott retained the lead after beating Harvick by a nose off of pit road. 

With 41 laps remaining, the race restarted under green with Elliott and Truex on the front row followed by Harvick, Austin Dillon, Jones and Almirola. At the start, Elliott and Truex duked for the lead through Turn 1 before Elliott cleared Truex for the lead following a push from Harvick. Truex and Harvick went to work in battling one another for position and closing in on Elliott for the lead while Logano made his way up to fifth place with a damaged rear end and behind Austin Dillon’s No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. 

With Elliott maintaining a three-tenths of a second advantage over Truex, Jones was back in sixth place in front of Almirola and Byron while Kyle Busch was in ninth place ahead of Bowman. Hamlin was in 14th behind Kurt Busch, Custer and Bowyer while Johnson was in 16th behind Keselowski.

Under 30 laps remaining, Elliott’s advantage grew to less than a second over Truex with Harvick trailing by less than two seconds. Behind, Bowman made his way into ninth place after passing Almirola while Byron and Kyle Busch were in seventh and eighth. Jones was the highest-running non-title contender in sixth place while Johnson was in 15th.

With 20 laps remaining, the battle for the lead started to ignite with Truex trailing Elliott by less than two-tenths of a second and continuing to close to the rear bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet. Behind, Harvick and his No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang trailed the two leaders by more than five seconds with Austin Dillon and Logano continuing to run in the top five. 

With 15 laps remaining, Truex gained a huge run on Elliott entering Turn 4 as he crossed beneath him past the start/finish line to take the lead. In Turn 1, however, Truex tried to slide up in front of Elliott, but they made contact and both made contact against the outside wall. Despite the damage, Truex continued with the lead while Elliott continued to run in second place, trailing by less than two seconds. 

Shortly after, Truex pitted due to sustaining a flat right-rear tire. Back on the track, Harvick assumed the lead and was followed by Austin Dillon while Elliott started to fade out of race-winning contention. 

With 10 laps remaining, Harvick was ahead by six-tenths of a second over Austin Dillon followed by Logano, Jones and Byron while Elliott dropped back to eighth place after being passed by teammate Bowman and Kyle Busch. Elliott would continue to lose more positions as he was off the pace with the field.

With the laps winding down and the leaders approaching lapped traffic, Harvick was still out in front while Austin Dillon continued to keep Harvick in his sights for the lead. However, with five laps remaining, Harvick started to extend his advantage to a second over Austin Dillon with Logano trailing by less than two seconds. 

When Harvick started the final lap, he was still ahead by six-tenths of a second over Austin Dillon. For one final circuit, Austin Dillon got the deficit down to less than three-tenths of a second, but it was not enough through Turns 3 and 4 as Harvick managed to streak across the finish line in first place and add a second Southern 500 title to his racing resume.

The victory was Harvick’s eighth of this season, his fourth win since August and the 57th of his Cup career, which he surpassed fellow competitor Kyle Busch and moved into ninth place on the NASCAR Cup Series all-time wins list. In addition, Harvick’s win was the 15th of the season for Ford and the ninth of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing. With the victory, Harvick clinched his spot to the Round of 12 in the Playoffs.

Ironically, Darlington Raceway served as the track where NASCAR made its return to on-track racing back in May amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and where the race was also won by Harvick. Compared to May, where the grandstands were empty, Harvick’s victory on Sunday evening at Darlington was met by a chorus of cheers from the fans with up to 8,000 spectators allowed to attend the race from the grandstands, something that delighted Harvick upon saluting the fans with his win.

“The first thing I wanna say is, ‘Welcome back, fans!’ Woo!” Harvick exclaimed on the frontstretch on NBCSN. “This interview’s a hell of a lot more fun with you guys up there. [I] Just wanna say thank you to everybody from NASCAR, all of you fans here in South Carolina…Just wound up fighting all night long. This Busch Beer Ford Mustang wasn’t where we wanted it to be, but the leaders got tangled up there and the next thing you know, we were racing for the win. Anytime you can win the Southern 500, it’s a good day. This is one of the most prestigious races in our sport and this is one of the most prestigious race tracks in our sport. Anytime you can win at Darlington, it’s a big deal. Man, Southern 500!”

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Austin Dillon rallied from starting at the rear of the field to post a strong runner-up result while Logano made a nice rally from his incident at the start of the final stage to finish in third place. Jones, the reigning Southern 500 winner, finished in fourth place as he emerged as the highest-finishing non-title contender in the field while Byron rallied to finish in fifth place and record his third consecutive top-five result.

Playoff contenders Bowman, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Almirola and Bowyer finished inside the top 10 on the track. Keselowski finished 11th ahead of Custer, Hamlin finished 13th, Elliott faded back to 20th and Truex ended his night in 22nd, a lap behind the leaders. DiBenedetto finished 21st, a lap down, while Blaney finished 24th, the lowest-finishing Playoff contender in the field.

There were 18 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 34 laps.

Results.

1. Kevin Harvick, 32 laps led

2. Austin Dillon

3. Joey Logano

4. Erik Jones

5. William Byron

6. Alex Bowman, one lap led

7. Kyle Busch

8. Kurt Busch, five laps led

9. Aric Almirola

10. Clint Bowyer

11. Brad Keselowski

12. Cole Custer

13. Denny Hamlin, 19 laps led

14. Matt Kenseth

15. Ryan Newman

16. Michael McDowell

17. Ryan Preece

18. Jimmie Johnson

19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20. Chase Elliott, 114 laps led

21. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down

22. Martin Truex Jr., one lap down, 196 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

23. Tyler Reddick, one lap down

24. Ryan Blaney, one lap down

25. Daniel Suarez, three laps down

26. Chris Buescher, three laps down

27. Ty Dillon, four laps down

28. Brennan Poole, five laps down

29. Ross Chastain, seven laps down

30. J.J. Yeley, seven laps down

31. Quin Houff, 10 laps down

32. Josh Bilicki, 11 laps down

33. Joey Gase, 16 laps down

34. Christopher Bell, 18 laps down

35. Timmy Hill – OUT, Overheating

36. John Hunter Nemechek – OUT, Accident

37. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Accident

38. Bubba Wallace – OUT, Transmission

39. James Davison – OUT, Engine

*Bold indicates Playoff contenders

Playoff standings

1. Kevin Harvick – Advanced

2. Denny Hamlin +54

3. Joey Logano +27 

4. Brad Keselowski +22

5. Alex Bowman +19 

6. Martin Truex Jr. +16

7. Chase Elliott +12

8. Austin Dillon +10 

9. William Byron +9 

10. Kyle Busch +7

11. Kurt Busch +4

12. Aric Almirola +0

13. Clint Bowyer -0

14. Cole Custer -3

15. Matt DiBenedetto -17

16. Ryan Blaney -17

Next on the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400 and the second Playoff race of the season. The race will occur on Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.


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