(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — RICHMOND, Va. — Over the years, Kevin Harvick has earned the nickname “The Closer.” Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, Harvick proved it’s a moniker that he still deserves.
“It’s been a tough start to the season,” Harvick said. “Our cars have been really fast, we just haven’t been able to get the results. You know, a lot of people have thought we might lay down this year and there ain’t no lame in that game, is there? It was a great night.”
Harvick, who was referencing his move to Stewart-Haas Racing next season with the lame comment, appeared to be off to a hot start this season, opening Daytona Speedweeks with a win in the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race and one of the two duels.
He can thank a caution with five laps remaining for the 20th Sprint Cup win of his career.
Harvick was running second, trailing Juan Pablo Montoya when the 11th and final caution flag flew on lap 395 after Brian Vickers hit the wall in Turn 3. Vickers, who was subbing for Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota while Hamlin recovers from a broken back, was taken to the infield care center and released after being checked out.
Harvick’s teammate Jeff Burton finished fifth to give Richard Childress Racing two cars in the top five. It was a welcome development just one night after RCR saw two of its Nationwide Series crew members arrested for alleged assault on driver Nelson Piquet Jr. and another unidentified person.
Harvick admitted that he probably wouldn’t have caught Montoya if the race had stayed green.
“I don’t think I would have caught him, no,” Harvick said. “My car had lost drive off the corner.”
Instead Harvick did what he has done so many times — steal a victory on a restart.
Both Montoya and Harvick pitted on the final caution, choosing to go with fresh tires. They restarted sixth and seventh respectively, and Harvick used his fresh tires to launch himself to the front from the outside.
“Our car had been really good in restarts on four or five laps,” Harvick said. “I had a better shot to win on the restart starting seventh then trying to catch Montoya on a green flag running second.”
It was a disappointing end for Montoya, who was poised to celebrate his first victory in nearly three years. Montoya, who took the lead on a restart on lap 334 and led 67 laps until the final caution flew, last went to victory lane in 2010 at Watkins Glen.
Joey Logano finished third, followed by Montoya, Burton, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Danica Patrick finished 29th, four laps down.
While the closing stages of the race provided maximum drama — Busch and Tony Stewart tangled on the final restart and then exchanged words after the race ended — the first half of the race belonged to Bowyer and Kenseth. The pair combined to lead the first 253 laps before relinquishing the lead to Kyle Busch.
“I think I was ninth on the final restart,” Bowyer said. “There was a ton of chaos behind me, Tony Stewart got pissed and I ended up second. That’s how I remember it.
“I would have liked to win but I’ll take that.”
Kenseth can claim a victory as well — at least a moral one.
After winning from the pole last Sunday at Kansas Speedway in his No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth spent the week embroiled in turmoil after his team was hit with severe penalties because his engine failed a post-race inspection. Kenseth rebounded to win the pole at Richmond on Friday and then led a race-high 140 laps Saturday night.
Bowyer’s Toyota engine, along with those of Harvick and David Gilliland, will go to NASCAR’s R&D Center this week for inspection.
The race also provided one of the strangest caution flags seen in sometime, when the sprinklers went off in the infield grass near the start-finish line. The cars ran under yellow for 12 laps until the water could be contained.
Follow Ellen J. Horrow on Twitter @EllenJHorrow