After leading 214 of 367 laps, it was Kevin Harvick who was expected to close the deal in Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
However, Martin Truex, Jr., who pulled away from Harvick on the final restart, took his first win at Darlington and second of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season after leading 28 laps.
“It’s amazing to win a race like this,” Truex said. “It’s the Southern 500 – one of the races everyone wants to win. To finally get it done and bring it home to Victory Lane here, it’s’ a pretty amazing feeling.”
For the first time in his 11-year Cup career, Truex achieves multiple victories after winning the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
“It’s been a good season, it has potential to be a really great season,” he said. “Based on the team we have, I think we can have seven or eight wins. That being said, we have two and I feel like we have a legitimate shot at this championship.”
Though Sunday was a Throwback weekend for all the right reasons, there was a negative throwback for Harvick, who again lost spots on pit road due to slow stops. Though Harvick had time to catch Truex, track position proved to be king.
“We have championship cars and we’re mediocre on pit road,” Harvick said. “It’s been that way for a few years. I’m over being a cheerleader. Those guys get paid a lot of money to perform on pit road and cheerleading hasn’t really been working.”
A week removed from his first Cup win at Michigan, Kyle Larson led 45 laps before settling into the third spot.
“When the sun was out, [the car] drove totally different,” Larson said of the changing conditions of a 500-mile race. “I could feel my car change and I was getting looser, I had to keep up with that. It was good to be a contender two weeks in a row.”
Completing was the top 5 was Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
With only two cautions in the opening 200 laps, the tides changed, as eight yellows flew in the latter third of the event.
Brian Scott was the victim of the first significant incident of the night after contact from Tony Stewart halfway down the backstretch turned the No. 44 Ford into the inside wall. Stewart, was later left the race due to an engine failure, was called to the NASCAR haulers following the crash.
On the following restart, Jimmie Johnson lost his No. 48 Chevrolet for the second straight year in Turn 4, sliding and slamming into the inside wall. He would finish 33rd.
To counter Johnson’s troubles, Hendrick Motorsports put the other three cars [Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Jeff Gordon] into the top 15, with Kahne grabbing his best finish in 10 races from the seventh spot.
The same couldn’t be said for guys like Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle, who all crashed hard on the ‘Track Too Tough Too Tame.’
With all this carnage ensuing late, Ryan Newman, who sits on the outside of the Chase Grid with one race remaining, shot for the stars, choosing to not pit while the leaders came in for fresh rubber.
Though falling to eighth spot, Newman gained eight points on Jamie McMurray heading into Richmond.
Rounding out the top 10 is Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott while Chris Buescher finished 17th, cushioning his point gap to David Ragan, as he tries to stay in the top 30 in points to make the Chase in Richmond.
“Staying out of trouble is going to be the No. 1 priority,” Buescher said of Richmond. “No. 2 on the agenda is to get the most points possible and be aggressive. We need to put ourselves in a position to gain every point that is absolutely possible without taking any huge risks.”