CONCORD, N.C. – Kevin Harvick’s answer to NASCAR’s new competition package was the same old song-another victory in a season that already has produced a surfeit of success.
This time it was Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with a restrictor-plate limiting the horsepower and a large blade on the rear of the cars providing downforce and maneuverability.
Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was still the strongest car in the field, and the driver who already has five points wins this season added another in the marquee exhibition race, taking control of the event with an overtime surge at the end of the 20-lap third stage and sealing the victory by outrunning Daniel Suarez in the final two-lap drag race to the finish.
With lane choice on the final restart, Harvick picked the top lane in front of eventual third-place finisher Joey Logano. The choice paid off, as Logano gave the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford a strong push off the second corner, allowing Harvick to clear the No. 19 Toyota on the backstretch.
"I thought on that last restart that my best opportunity was Logano," Harvick acknowledged. "He’s one of the best on the restarts. I knew he would work with me as good as possible, because that’s just the way that most of us do it from Ford. We were able to just stay even through (Turns) 1 and 2, and I really thought once we got to the backstretch we could clear him.
I didn’t want to be on the bottom. I didn’t feel my car was stable enough to be under someone when they were on my right side. I had to take my lumps through 1 and 2 and hope that the guy behind me was still with me when we got to the exit of 2, and we were able to win."
The third-stage victory also proved critical. In the second attempt at overtime, Harvick passed Kyle Larson for the top spot and held on to win the stage. That gave him lane choice for the final stage, and he never relinquished the lead.
"We needed to be in control of the race to have a chance at winning," Harvick said. "If we were third or fourth, we would have been in big trouble. We needed to be on the front row with clean air, because that was the only chance our car would handle good enough. It was so fast."
Harvick picked up his second victory in the All-Star Race, the first won coming in 2007. The winner of the previous two Cup points races, at Dover and Kansas, Harvick didn’t earn championship points for his victory at Charlotte, but he did claim the $1-million prize that goes to the winner.
Leading every lap of the final 10-lap segment of the scheduled 80-lap event, Harvick crossed the finish line .325 seconds ahead of Suarez, who came close to clearing Harvick off the second corner after the final restart but didn’t have enough room to slide up in front of the No. 4.
Denny Hamlin was fourth, followed by Chase Elliott, who earned the last spot in the 21-car main event via the Fan Vote. Jimmy Johnson, Kyle Larson, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne completed the top 10. Kahne rallied from four laps down after contact with the frontstretch wall on Lap 56.
Suarez got a push from Hamlin on the final restart, but the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates didn’t stay connected as long as Harvick and Logano did.
"The 11 (Hamlin) was doing a very good job as much as he could to push me," Suarez said. "For whatever reason, he just disconnected a little bit, and I couldn’t keep the run with the 4 (Harvick) and the 22 (Logano).
"They stayed connected for the entire corner, and after that I knew it was going to be tough. After that, I started just playing defense. I tried to slow them down, and I just didn’t do a good job or I just couldn’t do it enough."
A six-car wreck that started near the apex of Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 75-during the first attempt at overtime at the end of Stage 3-eliminated the strong cars of Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski, both of whom led laps in the event.
Truex entered the corner four-wide with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. below him, Clint Bowyer to his outside at Kurt Busch at the top of the track. Contact with Stenhouse’s Ford sent Truex’s Toyota up the track into Bowyer’s Ford, trapping Busch against the outside wall. Kyle Busch’s Camry also sustained damage in the wreck.
"We had a really strong race car and felt like we maybe had a shot to win it," Truex said. "Just four-wide going into (Turn) 3 there, and we all just ran out of room. The 17 (Stenhouse), I had him squeezed down so low, I just don’t know that he could hold it down there.
"I was trying to keep the 14 (Bowyer) to my outside and just one those deals at the end of the race. I knew we had to get through that green-white-checkered to have a shot to win, but I also knew if I lifted there, I would have been the only one that lifted, and the others would have went on and passed me, and we wouldn’t have won this thing."
Fans got their first look at the new competition package in the Monster Energy Open, which produced scintillating racing and multiple lead changes in each of the three stages. Race winner Allmendinger advanced to the main event, along with Stage 1 winner Alex Bowman and Stage 2 winner Suarez, who fell one spot short of the rare feat of winning the All-Star Race after transferring from the Open.
Notes: Harvick led the final 25 laps of the first stage. All told, he led 36 of the 93 laps (with the race extended 13 laps by the Stage 3 overtimes)… Kyle Busch led the final 19 laps of Stage 2 as the only driver other than Harvick to take a checkered flag on Saturday… Harvick’s pit crew climbed the frontstretch catch fence en masse after the victory… Truex led three times for 17 laps before being wiped out in the Lap 75 wreck.