With a dominant Kevin Harvick repeatedly slowed in the pits, Martin Truex Jr. capitalized to win Sunday night's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Clearly possessing the fastest car, Harvick led a race-high 214 laps and was seemingly set to win his second Darlington race in three years and third of the season. But three slow pit stops over the final 100 laps cost the Stewart-Haas Racing driver a total of 17 positions, including one stop that saw Harvick fall from the lead to 12th.
Harvick's issues opened the door for Truex to take advantage, and he did by leading 27 of the remaining 28 laps and building up enough of gap that Harvick couldn't erase. The win was Truex's second of the season and first in the Southern 500, regarded as one of NASCAR's four biggest events.
"It's just amazing to win a race like this," Truex said. "The Southern 500 is just one of the ones everybody wants to win. ... To finally get it done and bring home the victory and go to victory lane here, it was a pretty amazing feeling.
"Just can't believe we won here at Darlington. It's awesome."
Harvick finished second, with Kyle Larson third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Joey Logano fifth. Completing the top 10 were Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and rookie Chase Elliott.
Afterward Harvick, who leads the Sprint Cup standings, called out his pit crew that has been mistake-prone throughout the season.
"It just seems like it's just week after week after week," Harvick said. "You have a couple good weeks here and there and every once in a while you just put together a day, but they just can't put together a whole day on pit road right now."
While Harvick lamented what could have been, Truex celebrated winning multiple races in a season for the first time in his 11-year career. His other 2016 win came in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May, another crown jewel race along with the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 (Indianapolis).
Although the opening 95 laps were run caution-free, Darlington's reputation for chewing up cars and fraying drivers' nerves didn't disappoint. Of the 10 cautions, only one yellow flag was prompted for something other than a crash or spin.
Among the incidents was Tony Stewart appearing to intentionally spin rookie Brian Scott after Scott inadvertently blocked the three-time Sprint Cup champion. The incident saw Stewart swerve into Scott's rear quarter-panel, turning him into the inside wall.
Scott believed Stewart crashed him, while Stewart said Scott wrecked himself. NASCAR didn't penalize Stewart, but did summon him and his crew chief to meet with officials post-race. Stewart later dropped out of the race due to engine failure, finishing 35th.
"Apparently he got mad at me," Scott said. "I have a lot of respect for Tony. He has always raced me really clean. I am not sure what he thought was going on there. I am not sure if he thought I was trying to hold him up there, I wasn't. I was trying to let him go. I even pointed him to the inside. Maybe he thought I was giving him the finger or something."
SOUTHERN 500 RESULTS
|1||8||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||367||Running||28|
|18||22||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||367||Running||0|