Kevin Harvick drove away from the field, then saved enough fuel to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
Harvick beat second-place finisher and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer by eight seconds. It was Harvick’s first victory of the 2017 Monster Energy Cup Series season and first-ever at Sonoma, one of two road courses on the schedule. He snapped a 20-race winless streak dating to October 2016 at Kansas Speedway.
“It’s been a lot of close calls, and I think today with the car that we had all weekend, I felt like our car was fast enough to try to put ourselves in position towards the end of the race to have a chance to win,” Harvick said. “It was a great weekend, and you just got to cherish the weekends when they’re like this because they don’t always go as smooth as this one did, so it’s nice to finally have that.”
Brad Keselowski finished third, with Denny Hamlin in fourth, and Kyle Busch in fifth. Completing the top 10 were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Jamie McMurray.
Earnhardt, who’s retiring from full-time competition at the end of the season, had to overcome an earlier spin to finish sixth in his final start at the Northern California circuit. NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver was attempting to pass Danica Patrick entering Turn 11 when he got loose and spun.
Martin Truex Jr. won the first stage, led a race-high 25 laps, and had the fastest car for much of the afternoon, but the Furniture Row Racing driver didn’t make it to the finish line, as the engine in the No. 78 car expired with 23 laps remaining. He finished 37th out of 38 cars.
“For about the past 20 laps, I’ve been on seven cylinders,” Truex said. “After we made that last pit stop, when we lost the lead to Harvick, soon as I left pit road, I lost a cylinder. I was surprised we were able to keep up with them as well as we could on seven, but just shows how strong the car was. Just wasn’t meant to be today.”
Truex’s departure from the race opened the door for Harvick, who capitalized by running down Keselowski, who was out front thanks to a differing pit strategy. He then set about building an insurmountable advantage that saw him lead the final 22 laps.
“We were able to manage the car really after (Truex) fell out,” Harvick said. “I felt like he was the guy that we were going to have to race all the way to the end. He had a great car, and once he fell out, I felt like we were 100 percent in control of the race, no matter what had happened, whether it was old tires or new tires.”
Harvick is the 11th different winner in 16 races this season. His victory essentially secured himself a spot in the 16-driver playoff.
Bowyer’s runner-up finish moved him four points ahead of Matt Kenseth for the final provisional position among those who have not won a race with 10 regular season races remaining. Bowyer had an eventful day that included several incidents on the track, which necessitated multiple repairs to the No. 14 Ford.
“Let’s face it, yeah, we’ve got to win,” Bowyer said. “We need a win in a big way, and today would have been a great win, but after everything that happened, I mean, to get second place is, I guess, really good, as a matter of fact.”