RICHMOND, Va. — As far as the Chase was concerned, nothing changed during Kevin Harvick’s victory in Saturday night’s Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway — but what happened between the green flag and the checkered flag was astounding.
For the record, Harvick won his fourth race of the season and the 18th of his career as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin secured the final Chase spots they held provisionally entering the race — but not without considerable angst in the process.
Harvick beat Jeff Gordon out of the pits after a stop under caution on Lap 385 of 400 and drove away from the four-time champion. Carl Edwards passed Gordon for the second spot and challenged Harvick for the win, but Edwards ran out of time, finishing .139 seconds back.
With four victories each, Harvick and Kyle Busch are the top seeds for this year’s Chase.
“The guys on pit road had just a great last pit stop and were able to get us the track position,” Harvick said. “I struggled on the restarts getting going with the [gear] ratios that we had, so to be in control of that last restart I felt was pretty important, to get going.
“That last run there, we were actually too tight — Carl was actually a little bit better — and then, with about three or four laps to go, I just locked it on the bottom and hoped for the best there. So it all worked out.”
Gordon ran third, followed by David Ragan and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch, Stewart, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Mark Martin completed the top 10.
Edwards led 113 laps and dominated the middle stages of the race but lost track position when he failed to pit with other lead-lap cars under caution on Lap 310.
“I don’t know why we didn’t pit,” Edwards said. “I think [crew chief] Bob [Osborne] thought that there was going to be another caution. We were kind of getting caution after caution [a track-record-tying 15 cautions for 85 laps, all told], and we just thought more guys would stay out.