LONG POND, Pa. – On a day when he didn’t have the fastest race car, the right strategy call took Kevin Harvick to a breakthrough NASCAR Cup Series victory at Pocono Raceway.
Harvick, who was winless in 38 prior premier series appearances at the 2.5-mile ‘Tricky Triangle’, took two tires on his final green-flag pit stop with 37 to go to beat then-leader Aric Almirola off pit road.
With Almirola having to take four tires, and thus spend longer on pit lane, Harvick came back onto the track with more than 10 seconds in hand over Almirola’s trailing Ford Mustang.
Once the remainder of the pit cycle worked itself out, Harvick took the lead for the first time all day with 17 to go in the Pocono Organics 325 and then held off a charging Denny Hamlin to secure the victory.
Taking the checkered flag in front by .761 seconds, it was Harvick’s third win of the Cup Series season and the 52nd of his career, moving him to within two wins of Lee Petty for 11th on the all-time list.
Saturday’s score leaves Harvick with just two tracks – Kentucky Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL – that he has not won at in Cup Series competition.
“I’ve just got to thank everybody on our Head for the Mountains Busch Beer Ford Mustang (team). We weren’t where we needed to be to start the race and lost a bunch of track position, but we came back and made some great strategy calls, and were able to get out front and make some good laps,” said Harvick. “It’s great to finally check Pocono off the list. Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing has done such a great job with all of our cars every time we’ve come here over the last seven years. I guess we just need special paint schemes to get to victory lane. Just really proud of everybody and glad it didn’t rain all day.
“We were back to 20th today (at one point). In the end, it’s going to come down to strategy (at Pocono) and what you need to do,” Harvick added. “I wish I could explain to everybody how hard the guys and gals are working in the shop right now with this schedule and everybody (being) broken up. We appreciate everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing and want to say thank you to all the fans. I wish they were here, because this isn’t as near as exciting.
“I feel I’m like my seven-year-old (Keelan). I’ve got all this pent-up energy and can’t share it with anybody.”
Saturday’s race was the first half of a scheduled Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono, the first time in history that the premier division will race at the same track on consecutive days.
Almirola dominated the afternoon from the pole, leading three times for a race-high 62 of 130 laps, but his team’s strategy of “going for points” in the first two stages set him behind in the long haul.
That meant he had to take four tires versus Harvick’s two during the caution-free final stage, dropping him back well out of contention as Hamlin took over second and became the chaser down the stretch.
Hamlin closed from more than two seconds back, despite a persistent vibration aboard his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, but couldn’t get to Harvick at the white flag and had to settle for a runner-up finish.
Despite not being able to outduel Harvick, the Chesterfield, Va., veteran and five-time Pocono winner left the track Saturday with confidence that he can come back and go one spot better on Sunday.
“It was bad, like someone loosened all the nuts on the car. It was unfortunate,” said Hamlin of thelate vibration he was fighting. “We got there (to Harvick’s bumper); we came there from a long way back and had a strong FedEx Camry. With about 15 or 20 to go, the vibration just got really, really bad. He still would’ve been tough to pass. Even though we got there, it was going to be tough to get around him.
“Our car was extremely, extremely fast, though, and I’m optimistic for tomorrow’s race for sure.”
Almirola crossed third, his career-best finish at Pocono after previously leading just two laps at the track in 15 prior starts there. Christopher Bell also had a career day in fourth and Kyle Busch ended up fifth.
Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell, Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher filled out the top 10.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues Sunday with the Pocono 350 at Pocono Raceway.
Coverage Sunday afternoon begins at 4 p.m., live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.