Blanked for 21 straight races, Kevin Harvick was winless in 2019 until he held off Denny Hamlin on older tires to win Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The victory was Harvick’s fourth at the Magic Mile, most among active drivers and tied with Jeff Burton for most all-time. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang won his second-straight race at the one-mile flat track and his third in the last five events.
Crew chief Rodney Childers made the winning call to keep Harvick on track on older tires, when Hamlin pitted for right-side rubber on Lap 266, under caution for Kyle Larson’s spin in Turn 2. Hamlin restarted fourth, quickly moved to second and chased Harvick for the final 29 laps.
On the final circuit, Hamlin got to Harvick’s bumper in Turn 1 and gave the No. 4 Ford Mustang a tap, but Hamlin’s Toyota Camry couldn’t clear Harvick, who pulled ahead on the backstretch. Harvick hugged the bottom through Turns 3 and 4 as Hamlin moved to the outside, trying to take advantage of the traction compound in the higher lane.
But when Hamlin pulled alongside, Harvick drove to the right, hitting Hamlin and slowing his momentum. Harvick crossed the finish line .210 seconds ahead of Hamlin, who had led 113 laps before making his final pit stop.
Even as he lined up for the final restart on Lap 273, Harvick wasn’t sure Childers had made the right call, but the uncertainty disappeared when Harvick was first to the stripe.
“I didn’t think we had the best chance to win today but Rodney made a great call,” said Harvick, who led the last 41 laps. “We had a good car today. We just never could get track position. We stayed out there and ran a lot of good laps.
Lapped traffic on the final two circuits enabled Hamlin to make up ground and made Harvick’s victory more difficult.
“I really didn’t want to see that traffic there at the end,” Harvick said. “It made my car tight when (Hamlin) got to me. He tried to move me out of the way down there and I knew that was coming, as close as he was. So I just stood on the brakes-half-throttle down the back straightaway.
“I was like, ‘You’re not getting under me again,’ and he drove to the outside of me and I waited until he got to the outside of me and put a wheel on him.”
As he watched a replay of the final lap, Hamlin was already second-guessing himself.
“Well, I kind of shoved him up a little higher and tried to get him out of the groove,” said Hamlin, who was in a backup No. 11 Toyota Camry after crashing his primary car in practice. “I’m kind of watching it back right now. I mean, yeah, I wanted to just tap him there, but I didn’t want to completely screw him. I at least wanted to give him a fair shot there. Down the backstretch, I kind of let off, and I’m like, ‘All right, well, I’ll just pass him on the outside and kind of do this thing the right way,’ and once I had that big run, he just turned right. But I would do the same thing. It was a fun race, and congratulations to him and his team. They made a great call there at the end.”
Erik Jones finished third, overcoming contact with Alex Bowman’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on pit road and a subsequent speeding penalty. Ryan Blaney ran fourth, followed by Matt DiBenedetto, who posted his second top-five result of the season.
Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and polesitter Brad Keselowski completed the top 10. Busch led a race-high 118 of 301 laps but lost track position when he had to return to pit road under caution on Lap 153 to fix a tire rub. He later hit the wall on lap 214 to cause the seventh of nine cautions but rallied to score a top 10.
Busch won the first stage of the event, and eventual 11th-place finisher Aric Almirola took the second stage.
— NASCAR Wire Service —
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