Harvick edges Hamlin in last-lap battle in Cup race at Magic Mile

  • Kevin Harvick (No. 4) leads the field out of the pits after a late race stop during the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday. Rodney Childers, Harvick’s crew chief, decided not to pit late like the rest of the leaders, giving Harvick the edge he needed to beat out Denny Hamlin by 0.21 seconds, the third smallest margin in NHMS history, for a repeat win. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Kevin Harvick holds a giant lobster and his son Keelan kisses it after Harvick won the Foxwoods 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

Monitor staff
Published: 7/21/2019 10:40:00 PM

LOUDON – Kevin Harvick couldn’t blame Denny Hamlin for trying. After all, Harvick used the same maneuver to reach Victory Lane last year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

With the two drivers angling for first place in a last-lap battle during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race in Loudon, Hamlin made his move. His first attempt to pass came with an expected bump to Harvick’s No. 4 Ford around Turn 1. And then another bump down the front stretch.

“I wanted to just tap him there, but I didn’t want to completely screw him,” Hamlin said. “I at least wanted to give him a fair shot.”

But the 43-year-old Harvick, nicknamed “The Closer,”  lived up to his billing. He never budged and played his best defense on the final straightaway to block out Hamlin and take the checkered flag for a second straight year in another wild finish during the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at the Magic Mile.

It was the third closest margin of victory in a Cup Series race at Loudon at 0.21 seconds.

“I knew he was going to take a shot. I would have taken a shot,” said Harvick, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver who picked up his and his team’s first win of the season, his 46th overall in the Cup Series and his fourth at NHMS, tying Jeff Burton for the all-time record. “The way racing is now with all the chances that you have to take, whether it’s strategy, blocking or pushing somebody out of the way. (Hamlin) did exactly what he was supposed to do and I did what I was supposed to do to try and win the race.”

Erik Jones finished third, Ryan Blaney fourth and Matt DiBenedetto nabbed fifth.

Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch – who dominated the early portions of the race as the Stage 1 winner and led for the most laps (118) – and Brad Keselowski (pole sitter) rounded out the top 10. Newman, currently 15th in the Monster Energy Series standings, enjoyed the strong finish despite a part failure, while Alex Bowman, down to a third backup car after an eventful weekend at the track, finished 14th after starting in the back row.

But much of the crowd’s focus was on the Hamlin-Harvick battle, which kicked into high gear after the final restart with 29 laps to go.

The majority of the front pack opted for pit road during the final caution. Harvick didn’t. His team saw a path to victory and rolled the dice.

“The guys that were leading the race, I was really surprised that they pitted,” Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers said. “When we went green with 80 (laps) to go, we had already decided that if there’s another caution, we’re not going to pit unless we get shuffled back to eighth or ninth.”

Harvick said he was surprised when Childers relayed the message.

“They make the call and sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. Today it was right because they put us in control of the restart,” Harvick said. “I would have never done it, but that’s why (Childers) is on the box and not me.”

The sudden change in track position on the restart put Harvick’s car in the driver’s seat, but Hamlin, on fresher tires, wasn’t far behind.

After seeing Harvick bump-and-run his way to victory at the end of last year’s race, neither driver said they actually wanted the lead on the final lap coming off Turn 2.

“Nobody wanted to be in front of the other. I thought I wanted to be behind him but little did I know I should have kept the bottom and then forced him up like he forced me up off Turn 4,” Hamlin said. “If I could have done it all over again, I would have done that.”

Harvick maintained his position in first, and after Hamlin’s failed attempt inside on Turn 1, he then tried the outside this time approaching Turn 3. The two cars collided again with the finish line approaching as Harvick put his back tire on Hamilin’s front bumper to block him out.

“When we’re side by side between turns 1 and 2, I should have just drove straight and knocked him up the groove. ... It would have been over,” Hamlin said. “That’s just not the way I want to do it. We’re two veteran guys. We know how to race these things clean and let’s just figure it out at the end. He got the best of us.”

Following a 21-race drought, Harvick is just glad to be back on the winning side.

“This place has been really good to us,” he said.

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3371, jmcaree@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JayMcAree.)

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