A month's worth of bad luck disappeared for Kevin Harvick as he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with two laps to go to win the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Starting on the pole Saturday night, Harvick had the dominant car for most of the evening. But a caution and a subsequent pit stop for four tires placed him fifth on a restart behind Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt, who ran first and second and took just two tires, with five laps to go.
Two additional cautions setup a green-white-checker finish and enabled Harvick to pick his way to the front. On the deciding restart, Earnhardt choose the inside lane with Harvick lined up to his outside. Earnhardt got the jump, but with fresher tires Harvick powered by Earnhardt coming through Turns 3 and 4 and quickly pulled away for the victory.
"I needed those green-white-checkers," Harvick said. "The last one is probably the one I needed the most, just for the fact that I was able to get really good restarts. Those guys had older tires and were spinning the tires. I knew if I could make it through (Turns) 1 and 2, close to the No. 88 (Earnhardt), I knew I had the top line there and they were on the bottom."
Despite having cars capable winning several races, Harvick entered Darlington 25th in points. Largely due to parts failures, he had finished 36th or worse in four of the last five races since a March 2 victory at Phoenix International Raceway.
"It's one of those deals where we have had a lot of crazy things happen," Harvick said, who won for the 25th time in his career. "These guys have just kept their head down and known that we have had really fast race cars over the last several weeks. Tonight we were able to put a whole race together. Great night for us."
Harvick is the first to win two races this season snapping a streak of seven different winners in seven races. It is his first Southern 500 victory and Harvick is the first pole-sitter to win at Darlington since Dale Jarrett in 1997. Additionally, Harvick now owns victories in NASCAR's four major races (Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Brickyard 400).
"This is the one race I told Rodney (Childers, crew chief) I wanted to win," Harvick said. "This is the Southern 500; this is as big as it gets in NASCAR racing."
Earnhardt's runner-up was his best Darlington result in 20 career starts. Johnson finished third. Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle completed the top-five.