RICHMOND, VA — It wasn’t a win. That drought pushed 50 races now for Kevin Harvick. Still, his runner-up in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond (VA) Raceway has to sure as hell feel like one. He’s not been in contention to win a NASCAR Cup Series race much in the last year-in-a-half.
However, the guy Harvick was chasing there at the end of the seventh race of the 2022 season was a familiar foe. One that looked like his main competition to win the title in 2020.
Through the regular season that year, Harvick and Denny Hamlin combined to win exactly half of the race run 13-for-26. They went 1-2 in 3 times in a 10 race span that summer. Even to start the postseason off with, they won over half of the race (3-for-5) at the midway mark.
That’s when it all changed.
Both went winless the rest of the playoffs. Both went winless in the 2021 regular season. Hamlin, finally did pick up a pair of victories in the playoffs, but he hadn’t won since. Until, Sunday.
Harvick, hasn’t won since the final race of the opening round of the 2020 playoffs. Heading into the weekend, over the last 49 races, he had just four finishes better than fourth in that span.
There he was though at the end of Sunday’s race.
Harvick, pit for the final time on Lap 352. One lap earlier than Hamlin. The thing is, Hamlin and his Toyota were a little more superior on speed than Harvick’s Ford. He cycled ahead of him. They now had all out qualifying laps at the end.
William Byron was leading but hadn’t pit since Lap 310. Martin Truex Jr. was second but didn’t hit pit road since Lap 323.
They had over 30 lap fresher tires on Truex and over 40 laps fresher than Byron. Did they have enough time?
Not only did they, they got to the top two spots.
Harvick, now was faster than Hamlin but he ran out of time as Hamlin scored his first win of the season. Harvick, was only .552-seconds back for his fourth runner-up in the last 46 races.
“Yeah, just proud of everyone on our Ford Mobil 1 Mustang for staying there and having a great strategy and doing everything they did all day,” he said. “First clean day we’ve had all year. Cars have been fast.”
Harvick, said he had a car good enough to win there in the end but just wasn’t close enough to make a move on the final lap.
“Had a shot there at the end,” Harvick continued. “I wanted to be close enough with the white to just take a swipe at him. Yeah, the lap cars there kind of got in the way and I lost a little bit of ground.
“Still a great day for us. Just hopefully a little momentum in a positive direction.”
This could put him in a window to be a factor later on in the year. See, Phoenix sets the title and that’s a place Harvick has won at nine times. He restarted on the front row on the second to last restart there last month. Phoenix, races a lot like Richmond. Harvick, almost won Richmond.
With 11 top 10’s in his last 17 starts now dating back to last year, I’d say they’re close.