DARLINGTON, S.C. - Kevin Harvick capitalized on late-race contact between race-leaders Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night to win the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, the 2020 NASCAR Playoff opener.
Harvick’s Mustang led just 32 of the 367 laps, taking command when Elliott and Truex collided while battling for the lead with 15 laps left. His eighth victory of the season was his third at the historic track and the 57th of his Cup Series career. The win also provided him an automatic berth in the Round of 12, the next three-race bracket in the 10-race postseason.
Joey Logano finished third with Aric Almirola ninth and Clint Bowyer 10th to round out the top-10 Mustangs.
All three Team Penske drivers ran into trouble at points of the 500-miler, but Logano recovered best. Ryan Blaney started at the rear of the field after a pre-race penalty for improperly mounted ballast on the No. 12 Ford, an infraction that also cost him 10 points in the standings and the loss of crew chief Todd Gordon. Travis Geisler, the organization’s competition director, filled in as interim crew chief. Blaney finished 24th.
Brad Keselowski scraped the wall in the opening stage but came back to finish 11th in Penske’s No. 2 Ford. Logano’s No. 22 Mustang sustained damage in a stack-up at the start of the final stage, but he rallied for a top-five result.
The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue next Saturday night with the Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Richmond Raceway.
NCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st -- Kevin Harvick
2nd - Austin Dillon
3rd - Joey Logano
4th - Erik Jones
5th - William Byron
6th - Alex Bowman
7th - Kyle Busch
8th - Kurt Busch
9th - Aric Almirola
10th - Clint Bowyer
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
11th - Brad Keselowski
12th - Cole Custer
15th - Ryan Newman
16th - Michael McDowell
21st - Matt DiBenedetto
24th - Ryan Blaney
26th - Chris Buescher
30th - JJ Yeley
36th - John Hunter Nemechek
37th - Coey LaJoie
KEVIN HARVICK, No. 4 Busch Beer Throwback Ford Mustang -- VICTORY LANE INTERVIEW
WAS THIS ONE OF THOSE NIGHTS YOU DIDN’T HAVE THE BEST CAR AND SHOWED WHAT THIS TEAM IS MADE OF?
“First thing I want to say is welcome back, fans. This interview is a hell of a lot more fun with you guys up there. I just want to say thank you to everybody from NASCAR, all of you fans here in South Carolina. I’ve got to thank Busch Beer, Mobil 1, Hunt Brothers Pizza, Jimmy John’s, Ford Mustang, everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. We just wound up fighting all night long. This Busch Beer Ford Mustang wasn’t where we wanted it to be, but the leaders got tangled up there and the next thing you know we were racing for the win.”
HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THIS WIN FOR THE 4 TEAM?
“Anytime you can win the Southern 500 is a good day. This is one of the most prestigious races in our sport and this is one the most prestigious racetracks in our sport, so anytime you can win at Darlington it’s a big deal, but, man, Southern 500!”
WHAT DID YOU SEE WITH TRUEX AND ELLIOTT?
“Obviously, those guys had trouble. I didn’t see what happened. I just heard my spotter tell me that something had happened. I’ve just got to thank everybody on our Busch Beer Ford Mustang. They did a heck of a job tonight just keeping us in the game. Our car wasn’t very good, but we just kept fighting and kept ourselves up in the front with some great pit strategy and were able to stay up there and fight and wound up in the right spot.”
YOU SHORT-PITTED SEVERAL TIMES. WAS THAT WHAT YOU HAD TO DO?
“We kept having a lot of trouble with the right-rear tire cording. The car was really loose all night long for whatever reason and would cord the right-rear tire, so I think that was probably about as far as they felt like we were comfortable of going and wound up being the right strategy in the end.”
AUSTIN DILLON WAS ABLE TO GET SO CLOSE TO YOU. WHAT HAPPENED IN THREE AND FOUR?
“I just drove in there and wanted to hit my marks and hit the bottom. I knew I had a cushion and just wanted to maintain the best that I could. I just had to get back to the start-finish line, so I just didn’t want to miss my marks.”
YOU’VE WON BEFORE HERE, BUT THIS IS THE SOUTHERN 500. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
“This is one of the most prestigious races in our sport and obviously everybody in our sport knows the history that Darlington has for our sport, so anytime you can win here is pretty special.”
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang
“We fought hard. You’ve got to do it for Bobby Allison. You’ve got the coolest paint scheme on the racetrack you’ve got to do the best you can to try to get a victory. Man, hard fought. We kind of were decent, it’s just so hard to pass with these big spoilers on the car at this racetrack. That makes it challenging. We had a right-front go down the last lap of the second stage, hit the wall and we did a good job fixing the car and then strategy worked well, so Paul did great there, and then they had an amazing pit stop the last stop, had a good restart and all of a sudden I was like, ‘Shoot, we could win this thing.’ To see what the left-rear looks like after that I was pretty impressed to get whatever we got. It’s funny how the team always tells you, ‘How does the damage look?’ ‘It looks great. It looks great.’ You get out and you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ Overall, that’s what we needed to do. We need to come out of these playoffs running hard and having a solid top three finish to start the playoffs with a couple stage points is a good way to start.”
POST-RACE CONFERENCE CALL
CLINT BOWYER, No. 14 PEAK Throwback Ford Mustang
WAS THIS THE SAME CAR YOU RAN EARLIER IN THE YEAR AT DARLINGTON?
“To be honest with you, I don’t even know. I think that car got tore up pretty bad. I don’t think it was. I mean, all these cars by this time really got new bodies and everything on them anyway, so it’s kind of a moot point anymore. Honestly, things evolve so much with what’s going on in this sport about every car that we’re gonna run in the playoffs is at least a new addition with some enhancements or things you’ve learned over the course of the year. It’s almost evolved to where if you bring what you had last week it’s probably not good enough, so it certainly is a new batch for us.”
HOW IS YOUR CONFIDENCE GOING TO RICHMOND?
“I love the racetrack. I love to compete there. I love the challenge of it, but we’ve got to hit it. We’ve been so-so on the short tracks. That’s certainly one of my best tracks, so we’ve got to nail the setup and if we can do that we’ll get us a good run and go a long ways to getting into Bristol where we need to be.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHERE YOU ARE IN THE POINTS NOW LEAVING DARLINGTON?
“I certainly was hoping for more. Frustrated to be honest with you. I have to go back and look at the race to see what happened with the debris. By the time that they picked it up I’d say it was way off the racetrack, so that kind of set us up to not have a not very good day. That put us in a hole. We were gonna be in the single digits for sure there, looking pretty good, but just had a lot of trouble. Right-rear -- threw the rubber off the right-rear and had to pit there. It could have been catastrophic. At the end the left-rear was about to fall off of it, so we’ve got to clean some things up. I told you going into this we’ve got to put 10 races together. We’ve got to put whole races together. We can’t make these mistakes. If we can clean those up, we’re going to some good tracks for us -- for us all, Aric, Kevin and all of us, we enjoy these short tracks. We’ve got a good short track program, so looking forward to what’s to come.”
WHAT AFFECT DID THE RULES PACKAGE HAVE ON THIS RACE?
“It was definitely different than what we had the first time around here. Everything has evolved. Everybody gets better and we used that as a practice session. We had two good practice sessions, so everybody is gonna come back and be better, which is gonna tighten the field up, which is gonna make the race, I mean, from a fan’s perspective not as entertaining as it could be. When you come in and you’re just stabbing at these things and don’t have practices or qualifying or anything else to line it up, it makes a difference. When we’ve got to go out there and we have practice sessions and things like that, it tightens the field up and then it becomes about track position and some strategy and things like that.”
ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Go Bowling Ford Mustang
WHAT EFFECT DID THE RULES PACKAGE HAVE ON THIS RACE?
“I think the downforce package has been a little bit different, for sure. I enjoy slipping and sliding around. Tires still seemed like they mattered, for sure. I think tires were a second-and-a-half to two seconds faster, so I’m excited about Richmond -- going back to a short track package with low downforce and that’s been a good place for us, so I’m looking forward to there and Bristol and we’ll go from there.”
HOW HAS THE DYNAMIC OF THIS FIRST ROUND WITH DARLINGTON AS THE FIRST RACE AND BRISTOL AS THE LAST RACE?
“For me, I don’t think it’s that much different. As far as Darlington compared to Las Vegas, I felt like I ran about the same as I would have at Las Vegas. I’ve been about a sixth to tenth place car at both places and that’s about what we ran tonight. We got in a little bit of a hole early in the race with some left-rear quarter panel damage that we had to fix on pit road and really put us in a spot to where we couldn’t capitalize on stage points, so that hurt us a little bit just not scoring any stage points, but we were able to battle back from that and get back to the top 10, which is where we felt like we were capable of running. I felt like we were a seventh to tenth place car and we finished ninth.”
DID ANYTHING SURPRISE YOU TONIGHT ABOUT THE PLAYOFF DRIVERS GOOD OR BAD?
“Not really. Anytime you show up for a playoff race you expect to race against all the guys that are in the playoffs. Everybody just brings everything they’ve got for the playoffs and we see it time and time again -- you line 16 cars up in the playoffs and they’re all gonna run right next to each other. It ebbs and flows from race to race and I expect to see more of the same in the weeks to come. You have to plan on racing all the guys in the playoff and it doesn’t matter who it is.”
CLINT BOWYER CONTINUED
DID ANYTHING SURPRISE YOU TONIGHT ABOUT THE PLAYOFF DRIVERS GOOD OR BAD?
“I think the only one who stands out obviously is the 3. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. I mean, they had a good finish. If you put the 3 car in 10th, he runs 10th. If you put him up front, he’s gonna run up front. It’s kind of that same adage for everybody, though, so it’s just tonight it was all about how you fell off the debris caution. That’s what shook the race up in a big way and, like the 11 car is a prime example. He ran up front all night long and wasn’t there after that.”
ARIC ALMIROLA CONTINUED
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT RICHMOND AND BRISTOL TO FINISH OUT THIS ROUND. YOU’VE BEEN CALLED A DARKHORSE, SO WHY SHOULD PEOPLE NOT BE SLEEPING ON YOU?
“That question I don’t really care to answer. I don’t really care what anybody else thinks about me or whether or not we’re good enough or not good enough or a darkhorse. I’m just focused on my race team. I said that on media day. And then as far as the stats, at least you said 2018 were good runs for us at those places and that was a low downforce package, so I expect to run good at Richmond. That’s one of my favorite racetracks and I expect to run good at Bristol. We had a really good car there in the spring, ran in the top five a lot, and then got caught up in a wreck on a restart later in the race, but scored a lot of stage points and ran in the top five quite a bit in the spring race at Bristol, and then for the All-Star Race at Bristol felt like we were a fifth to seventh-place car there, so I think we can have success at both those racetracks and I don’t really want to speculate too much I’m just ready to go race.”
COLE CUSTER, No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang
WHAT WAS IT LIKE YOUR FIRST PLAYOFF RACE?
“It was a persevering night. We didn’t have the night we wanted. We definitely fought hard the whole night just to try to keep ourselves in the game. We had to go to the back with a speeding penalty and just overall fought as hard as we could all night and ended up 12th. Overall, I mean, we wanted to run better, but that’s something that can keep us in the game and keep us in the game for the next two races. Hopefully, we can put together better, but Darlington definitely hasn’t been our team’s strong suit, so it’s just a matter of figuring out what I can do better and what we can get better with the car.”
DID YOU FEEL ANY DIFFERENT?
“There were definitely some nerves. I mean, obviously it’s your first time in the playoffs in the Cup Series, but, overall, I learned at the XFINITY level in the playoffs that you just have to go out there and focus on one step at a time, what’s coming up next. You try and knock the nerves down by having a good game plan and knowing what you’ve got to do while you’re out there. Overall, you just try to take it one step at a time.”
YOU HAVEN’T RACED AT RICHMOND YET THIS YEAR. YOU HAVE ONE CUP START A COUPLE YEARS AGO, SO WILL THAT HELP?
“It gets you a basic idea of things, but at the same time that was a long time ago. I feel like I’m a better driver than I was then. There’s a little bit that I can pull a little bit from, but it’s gonna be a lot different. It’s a different package. Our cars are different probably than what they were before, so I can pull a little bit, but it’s gonna be trying to learn all over again. I think we’re kind of used to that this year, trying to adapt as fast as we can.”
ANY CHANCE YOU LOOK AT DATA AND FOOTAGE FROM WINNING IN THE XFINITY RACE AT RICHMOND LAST YEAR?
“That’s every weekend, trying to figure it out as best I can. I try and talk with Kevin every weekend to try and get an idea of what he’s looking for. He’s been a huge help this year and all my teammates -- Clint and Aric and everybody at the shop -- but it’s tough. Obviously, you can look at as much film and data as you want, but you don’t really get the experience until you’re actually out there. You can have those things in the back of your head on what you really need to work on, but until you’re out there you don’t really know what you’re gonna fight.”
WERE TIRES NEGATED BY THE RACE PACKAGE?
“Looking at it from my perspective, I love the XFINITY package when I ran it. I think it’s fun. You can move around and do a lot of different things and the aero is not too bad in traffic. You have a lot of motor where there is tire fall off and you can make passes and it’s fun. I thought it was a really fun package to run. This package, I think we’ve just gotten used to trying to, it’s just a different style of racing. You’ve got to try and get track position. You’ve got to fight as hard as you can. Tire falloff probably isn’t the biggest thing we think about. It’s more about trying to get up front on pit road or on restarts and trying to get yourself established in a good spot, but, overall, it’s a little bit different, but I think we still see some good racing. People are able to race hard and make bigger moves probably than before, but it definitely gets tough at times on long runs.”