Richmond, VA – Kevin Harvick once again proved why he's "the closer" in NASCAR.
Harvick won Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway after he charged from seventh to first during a two-lap overtime finish.
The 37-year-old Harvick claimed his 20th career win in the Sprint Cup Series, including his third at this 0.75-mile racetrack. He led just three laps during the 406-lap race. But his last two laps in front counted the most.
Juan Pablo Montoya appeared to be on the way to his first win since August 2010 at Watkins Glen, N.Y., as he held the lead before the caution flag waved in the closing laps for an accident involving Brian Vickers.
Harvick and Montoya were among those who pitted during the caution, while Jeff Burton remained on the track and led the way for the final restart. Montoya restarted in sixth, one spot ahead of Harvick.
"That was a heck of a first lap of the restart," Harvick said. "I thought the outside line might have the advantage, because it had a couple of guys with new tires in the second row, and lined up on the outside. These cars drive a lot off the left-rear, so we only took two tires. They didn't get that great of a restart, but my car launched, and I was able to drive it in the first corner and hope for the best down there."
Harvick beat Clint Bowyer to the finish line by 0.343 seconds. Bowyer had won the most recent Sprint Cup race at Richmond last September. Joey Logano crossed the line in third.
"Joey and I were both lucky enough to be on the bottom when all hell broke loose on the restart," Bowyer said. "Burton was bringing us to the line pretty slow. I was like, this is going to be even worse."
Harvick is in his 13th and final year as driver of the No. 29 car for Richard Childress in Sprint Cup. He is moving over to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season. Since winning the preseason race at Daytona in February, Harvick had scored only one top-10 finish before his win at Richmond.
"It's been a tough start to the season," he said. "You know, a lot of people have thought we might lay down this year, and there isn't no lame in that game, is there? It was a great night."
Montoya, who was hoping to end his 94-race winless streak and claim his first victory on an oval in NASCAR's top series, ended up finishing fourth. It was his first top-10 finish since June 2012 at Michigan (30 races ago). Montoya's first two wins in the series have come on road courses.
"We made the right call when we pitted," Montoya said. "When we got that caution at the end, it was a no-brainer to take tires. I think what hurt us is I restarted on the outside, and when you restart on the outside and people got really bad tires, everything packs up."
Burton, who is Harvick's RCR teammate, finished fifth, followed by Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, who started on the pole and led the most laps with 140. Either Kenseth or Bowyer held the top spot for the first 253 laps before Kyle Busch moved to the front. Busch, who was attempting to win the spring race at Richmond for the fifth straight year, was involved in a three-car crash on lap 327. He finished 24th.
Kenseth's pole win and seventh-place finish at Richmond came after a rough week for the first-year Joe Gibbs Racing driver. His No. 20 team was severely penalized by NASCAR earlier this week for an illegal engine used in his Kansas race-winning car. He received a loss of 50 points as part of the penalties.
Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top-10.
After the race, Tony Stewart had a heated exchange with Kurt Busch in the garage area. Busch bumped Stewart out of the way while they were battling for position during the green-white-checkered finish. Stewart wound up finishing 18th.
"It's just a free-for-all," Busch said. "There was rubber buildup on the outside groove (of the racetrack), and there were cars sliding up with old tires. So I don't know what (Stewart) was upset about. I got hit from behind and got hit from every which way. So did he. Kenseth moved me up out of the way at the end, so that's why I was upset with him. But, hey, it was a free- for-all. Ten laps ago, this car didn't have a scratch on it, and now it's destroyed."
Stewart did not comment on the incident, as he quickly left the racetrack following his confrontation with Busch.
During the cool-down lap, Stewart pulled up next to Busch and scraped his car. Busch had bumped into the back of Kenseth to express his displeasure before Stewart came up to him.
Despite a 12th-place finish, Jimmie Johnson widened his lead to 43 points over Edwards, who jumped from sixth to second in the rankings. Kasey Kahne dropped one spot to third in the rankings (-46) after his 21st-place run.