Kevin Harvick snatched another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory by passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the closing laps at Martinsville.
The Richard Childress Racing driver pulled off another last-gasp charge, overtaking his Hendrick Motorsports rival with four laps remaining to claim his second consecutive win, having beaten Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch in more dramatic fashion a week ago at Fontana.
Regarded as the best "closer" in Cup, Harvick was in attack mode in the last part of the race, restarting from the outside of the front row in what turned out to be the final green flag with 29 laps remaining. Initially he struggled to keep his position as Earnhardt and Juan Pablo Montoya were able to pass him while making the most of their inside-line positions on the restart.
However, Harvick fought back, while ahead of him Earnhardt bumped the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Busch to take the lead with 20 laps remaining. After overtaking Montoya, Harvick was able to complete the pass for second on Busch, starting his pursuit of the leader.
Lapped traffic helped Harvick get to the rear bumper of Earnhardt, putting the pressure on him as the lap count faded. With five laps remaining, the Hendrick driver, who entered the event with a 98-race winless streak, got loose at the exit of Turn 4 and Harvick was able to power off the corner quick enough to get side by side with him. He eventually completed the pass on the inside of Turn 1, pulling away to leave Earnhardt fighting it out with Busch for second place, before claiming his first ever Cup win at Martinsville.
"I didn't think we had the car to do that and just come back up through there," said Harvick, whose second victory of the season vaults him up four places to fourth in the Cup standings. "We put those two tires on and I got to the front and all of a sudden, everything was woken up. So I had a lot of fun racing with Dale Jr., and I hate to be the guy who is the bad guy here but we are in it to win it."
Earnhardt was able to hold off a charging Busch in the end, the pair racing side by side until the checkered flag. The third place for the Gibbs racer allowed him to reclaim the points lead, which he had already held following the second race of the season at Phoenix.
"I tried to put together some laps there but the back of the car just wasn't into the track enough," said Earnhardt. "The No. 29 [Harvick], he was coming and there just wasn't much I could do. Got a little loose there going down into [Turn] 1. I wanted to do a little bit of a crossover move and I thought I had that but we got down into Turn 3, I wanted to keep my nose there but not too much.
"I had already got into Kyle pretty hard racing for the lead there. I just tried to keep the nose in there without turning him sideways and allowing Kyle to get into the mix. I don't know what I could have done different."
Busch led the most laps in the end, but had to accept defeat once again, albeit with another healthy amount of points after his fourth top-three finish in the first six races of the season.
Montoya finished a solid fourth, making an impressive recovery from 27th on the grid, with a great charge that saw him break into the top 10 before the 100-lap mark without any strategy moves involved. He dropped a lap down due to a late call to the pits halfway through, but eventually charged through to take his fourth top-10 finish of the year.
"We had a good day," said Montoya. "Qualified horrible yesterday. Everybody did an amazing job. We had a good racecar. It was really good on the long runs. That really helped us out. Good calls from the team. We looked good at the end."
Hendrick's Jeff Gordon appeared to be a contender for victory for most of the afternoon but finished fifth in the end, ahead of the Roush Fenway Ford of Matt Kenseth, polesitter Jamie McMurray (Earnhardt Ganassi), Kenseth's teammate David Ragan, RCR's Clint Bowyer – who led 91 laps – and Hendrick's Mark Martin, who finished 10th in his 800th Cup series career start.
Pre-race favorites Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson were contenders at the front for most of the day, both leading a good number of laps. However, Hamlin's final green-flag pit stop was followed by an untimely caution as many of his rivals had yet to pit, leaving him initially a lap down, then down in the order with not enough laps to make up the lost ground.
Meanwhile, Johnson was caught speeding entering the pits on his final stop under the last caution, putting him right behind Hamlin as the last cars on the lead lap for the final restart. They eventually finished 12th and 11th in the order, respectively. Former points leader Carl Edwards had a lackluster afternoon, finishing 18th and a lap down.
Among the many incidents typical of short-track racing at Martinsville, a fiery accident on lap 221 caused the longest caution period of a total of 11 during the race. The throttle on Martin Truex Jr.'s Toyota got stuck as he was fighting for position with Red Bull's Kasey Kahne, who also ended up against the wall.
The race had to be red-flagged for nearly 25 minutes to clean up the debris, while both drivers were able to emerge unhurt from the impact.
Results - 500 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet 3h32m41.000s
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.727s
3. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 0.741s
4. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2.370s
5. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.214s
6. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 3.503s
7. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 4.832s
8. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 5.507s
9. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 6.036s
10. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.251s
11. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.918s
12. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 9.717s
13. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
14. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 1 lap
15. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap
16. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 1 lap
17. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 1 lap
18. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
19. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 2 laps
20. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 2 laps
21. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 2 laps
22. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 3 laps
23. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge + 3 laps
24. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 5 laps
25. Tony Raines Front Row Ford + 7 laps
26. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 7 laps
27. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 11 laps
28. Hermie Sadler TRG Chevrolet + 12 laps
29. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 13 laps
30. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 14 laps
31. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 24 laps
32. Michael McDowell HP Toyota + 30 laps
33. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 32 laps
34. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 38 laps
35. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 40 laps
36. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 43 laps
Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford 443 laps
Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet 261 laps
Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 219 laps
Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 219 laps
JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 33 laps
Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 31 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 25 laps