Kevin Harvick held off Carl Edwards to score his fourth win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season after taking the checkered flag in the Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
While Harvick was crossing the finish line first three other drivers – Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin – locked up their spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup field of 12 drivers.
Kyle Busch will open next week’s Chase at Chicagoland Speedway as the number one seed while Brad Keselowski and Hamlin come in 11th and 12th by virtue of their wild card positions.
Harvick’s win came on a wild night of racing that saw a Richmond track record 15 caution flags but at the end of the night the Richard Childress Racing driver was celebrating win number four of the season in Victory Lane.
A late race caution with 15 laps to go proved to be the deciding factor of the night as Harvick came off pit road first. He was able to fight off Jeff Gordon and a hard-charging Carl Edwards in the final laps to score his second career win at Richmond.
“On the green flag runs, we could take off for the first 40 or 50 laps really good,” said Harvick, who led a race-high 202 laps. “They got it a little bit too tight there at the end and Carl (Edwards) was actually a little bit better than we were. I finally just started hugging the bottom and parking it and figured he was either going to have to knock me out of the way or go around the outside. It was a good race. A lot of fun.”
Edwards was closing fast with four fresh tires as the laps wound down but after finishing second in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race, was forced to settle for the runner-up spot once again.
“Well, once I get over the frustration of not winning this thing I am going to be really excited about how fast our team is,” said Edwards. “We really turned things around tonight. That is the best we have run on a short track in years. That was huge. That was a tough race not to win. I feel like we had the car beat and if we had another lap or two we would have been all over Harvick there. It was a fun race. I had a good time and I am ready to go get this Chase on.”
Gordon finished third with David Ragan, who had a shot at one of the wild card positions with a win, and Kurt Busch rounding out the top five.
“We want to win every single time we come to a race track,” said Ragan. “A top five is good. We gained some points from our recent bad luck and we will move on.”
Kyle Busch, Stewart, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Mark Martin completed the first ten finishers.
The first of the night’s 15 caution flags came out on lap eight for a multi-car pile-up on the frontstretch that swept up Chase contenders Earnhardt Jr. and Hamlin among others. Both drivers suffered damage to their cars but were able to survive the rest of the race, despite several trips to pit road for repairs, and secure a position in the Chase.
Two of the night’s cautions were caused by a pair of incidents involving Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, who continued their feud that last appeared at Pocono in August.
Busch got into Johnson early in the race causing the five time champion to spin and hit the wall hard.
Johnson later came back on track after repairs and chased down Busch, sending him spinning when they made contact racing through turns one and two.
“If you’re going to spin me out, I’m going to spin you out,” said Johnson. “It’s just part of it. I’m sure I’ll go find him and talk to him and he’ll run his mouth and we’ll go from there. So we’ll see what happens. I’ve worked very hard to not have any contact with him. And even the Pocono thing; I made a move to break draft. I didn’t touch his car; he instigated and ran over the side of me. So if he can stop running into my Lowe’s Chevrolet, everything would be just fine.”
Busch, who rallied back, was still in a foul mood after the race and was also involved in a confrontation with a reporter asking about the incident.
“We raced down into Turn 1 and I locked up the left front trying to avoid him,” Busch said. “When he came back to us, you know, you could see it coming. That’s not something you see from Jimmie Johnson every day so I know we’re in his head. If we’re going to race this way, he’s got to worry that there’s ten other guys in this Chase, not just the 22.”
The 15 cautions slowed the race for 85 laps. There were 11 lead changes among seven different drivers.
Kyle Busch is the number one seed in the Chase followed by Harvick, Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Edwards, Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski and Hamlin.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship now begins next Sunday with the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.