Harvick displays some Dover domination

Kevin Harvick celebrates after winning Sunday’s race at Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — There was nothing that could keep Kevin Harvick from driving into victory lane at Dover International Speedway on this cloud-covered Sunday afternoon.

Fittingly, as the laps were winding down, the sun broke through the clouds and shined down on Harvick and his dominant No. 4 Ford in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy Cup Series race at Dover.

Kevin Harvick does a burnout after his victory. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

While it might have looked like a nice easy Sunday cruise at times for Harvick, the hurdles he had to leap on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval were many.

Harvick outdueled Brad Keselowski in the middle stages of the race, sat through a 41-minute rain delay, and then passed and drove away from his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer over the final 80 laps to earn the victory at Dover.

Harvick drove under the checkered flag a distant 7.450 seconds in front of Bowyer – the length of one of Dover’s straightaways.

For Harvick, who recorded the 41st win of his career, the fourth of this season and his second triumph at Dover, getting the opportunity to outduel his teammate was exciting.

Kevin Harvick cools off with a bottled water after his Dover victory. (Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder)

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh I’ve talked so much trash to him all weekend,’ and (Bowyer) told me the karma train was going to run me over when it started raining,” Harvick said. “But we had a fun weekend.

“When we come to Dover I feel like Clint is one of the people that you’re going to have to beat just for the fact that he’s been so good for so many years here.”

Harvick added, “To be able to race with Clint for a win is a lot of fun. I’d rather be able to keep it in the house than it to be with someone else.”

The complexion of the race changed when the rain began to fall on the track at around 4:45 p.m. with 80 laps remaining.

Kevin Harvick leads Martin Truex Jr. on a restart at lap 7. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

With Bowyer leading Harvick by 1.5 seconds, NASCAR summoned the field to pit road at 4:50 p.m. so it could begin track-dying procedures.

The red flag race-stoppage lasted 41 minutes and when the driv-ers returned to racing the track’s concrete surface had changed, as much of the rubber in the corners was blown off by the track dryers.

Bowyer would have been awarded the win had the rain continued to fall. Unfortunately for him, it did not.

“I told my pit crew that they needed to do a rain dance,” he said.

Bowyer said he knew he was going to be in trouble after he pitted for four fresh tires under the final caution period with 77 laps to go after the track was dried.

“The biggest thing was we had a chance to adjust our car to clean air like (Harvick) did,” Bowyer said. “(Harvick) had that luxury all day long and that was our first shot at tires and clean air.

“(My car) took off and it was turning really, really good and the car really needs to be tight and work into that (condition). I knew when it took off as good as it did, and it was rotating as good as it did, that I was in trouble.

Martin Truex Jr. tries to make a pass on Kevin Harvick. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“Sure enough, I just got way, way too loose. But it’s fun to be running like this again and competitive and up front in the limelight.”

Harvick passed Bowyer for the lead in the outside lane heading into the third corner on lap 338. Once he got the lead, there was no looking back.

“It was just one of those weekends were the car was spot-on from the time we got her,” Harvick said. “Everybody is just so detail-oriented right now and I feel like we’re playoff racing on a weekly basis, and if you’re going to win a lot of races, that’s what you have to do.”

Daniel Suarez tied his career-best finish by coming in third and was followed by two-time Dover winner Martin Truex Jr. and former champion Kurt Busch, another SHR driver.

“It was good,” Suarez said. “We had a little rough start in the first month-and-a-half of the season and now we’re definitely moving in the right direction.

“We just have to somehow beat (Harvick). He was just in a different league. Normally if you can run in the top five, you can have a shot any time (at a win).”

Harvick, who led six times for a race-high 201 laps – including the final 63, established his dominance early in the race, sweeping the first and second stages, which were 120 laps apiece.

The first stage of the race featured drastic up-and-down moments for several drivers as Harvick rolled past Keselowski for the lead on lap 108 and held it to the end of the first segment.

Alex Bowman and pole-winning Kyle Larson, who were forced to start from the rear of the field after failing pre-race inspection three times Sunday morning, remained on the track during that caution and inherited the top two spots.

Bowman managed to hold the top spot until Keselowski began to assert his strength by passing him for the lead on lap 48.

Truex pitted on lap 98 after he felt his right-front tire losing air pressure while running in second place. He returned to the track in 27th, one lap behind the leaders. He still managed to finish fourth.

Larson entered the pits one lap after Truex and his pit crew was penalized for having an uncontrolled tire on pit road. The driver fell all the way to 30th, three laps off the pace. He rallied to finish 10th.

“I’m frustrated a little bit, we could just not make (the car) any better,” Truex said. “We just couldn’t get the thing turning off the corner. I could catch anybody who was in front of me at any point in time after 50 laps in a run but I just stuck there.

“It was very frustrating.”

The second 120-lap stage was dominated by Harvick and Keselowski, who led four times for 108 laps.

Harvick drove underneath Keselowski in turns three and four and completed the pass on the front straightaway on lap 200.

Harvick then built his lead over second place to more than four seconds before that margin was erased with the conclusion of the second stage at lap 240.

Bowyer, who started 12th, rose into the lead when he passed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 298, setting up the late-race drama.
Bowyer said he enjoyed battling it out for the win with his teammate.

“(Harvick’s) obviously a champion of this sport,” he said. “We can beat him on this race track, hopefully, when we come back in the fall.

“This is one of the most competitive and challenging race tracks that we go to. You’ve got to enjoy coming to a race track like this. If you don’t, it’s going to be a long day.”

For Harvick, he just hopes his young son Keelan is careful with his second monster trophy.

“The first one we won we took it home and put it in his play-room,” Harvick said. “First day I came home and he had the arm broke in half off the thing.”

Harvick said his son was already asking him about the new trophy on the phone in victory lane.

“He said, ‘Dad, are you bringing that trophy home?,’” he said. “I said, ‘I’m bringing it home, but do not break the arm off this one.’ I’m sure we’ll put it in the same spot.

“We’ll clean it up (after the victory lane celebration) and put it in his playroom. We’re all good.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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