Whenever he’s been running in a Nationwide Series race in 2012, Kevin Harvick has been a forced to be reckoned with and at times utterly dominant. And yet frustratingly for the Sprint Cup regular, something has always ended up denying him the race win – famously, last week at Atlanta it was a late race debris caution that undid all his good efforts in the final laps, meaning it’s been 30 starts since his last win almost exactly two years ago right here at Richmond International Raceway.
There would be no such injustices on Friday night in the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 race at the three-quarter mile track, however. Harvick would once again dominant the race and lead for 141 of the 250 laps of the race, but this time nothing would get in the way of claiming the chequered flag for the first time this year in the series. And it was long overdue in Harvick’s eyes.
“Sometimes you go through slumps like that, and when you break ‘em, it just makes it that much sweeter,” he said on victory lane. “I know we haven’t won the races that we needed to, but, man, we’ve led a ton of laps and been in contention to win just about every race I’ve been in this car this year.”
Polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had been quickly dispatched by fellow front row man Austin Dillon at the green flag, but he held on to the back of the #3 and a dozen laps later was in position to benefit when Dillon had to check up for slow traffic ahead and Stenhouse took the lead on lap 15 and proceeded to pull out a lead of almost a second before the first caution came out on lap 35.
That was for Tanner Berryhill crashing in turns 1 and 2, and the ten laps under caution for the clean-up allowed the leaders to come onto pit lane for their first stop of the night. Stenhouse still led at the restart, but by lap 70 Harvick had moved up to second place and was too strong to hold back any longer, so the #33 claimed the lead for the first time of the evening and proceeded to hold it for an unbroken stint lasting over a hundred laps.
That period spanned four different cautions, which started on lap 110 when Johanna Long had a tyre go down which sent her up into the wall and led to a wild multi-wide restart that somehow didn’t result in an instant major wreck. The next caution was on lap 143 and was for Danica Patrick hitting the wall, after misjudging her clearance over Brad Sweet as she moved up the race track in front of him.
The third caution was on lap 156 when Sam Hornish Jr. spun in turn 1 after taking an accidental hit from his Penske stable mate Ryan Blaney while the two were trying to get past Ty Dillon; as Hornish slid back down the Richmond banking he made contact with the right hand side of Timmy Hill’s car, destroying the rear deck of Hornish’s car and sheering off much of the side bodywork off the #41. That spread so much debris over the circuit that a four minute red flag stoppage was required to allow the track workers to get out and clean up the mess.
It had been too soon after the Danica caution – and still too far from the finish – for the leaders to need another visit to pit lane at this point, so at the restart it was Kevin Harvick still in charge but now with Kurt Busch in second ahead of Stenhouse, Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler. However, Busch was suffering form brake issues and was quickly mugged for position by first Stenhouse and then Sadler, who then set their mutual sites on charging down Harvick who’d got an initial jump on them both.
Harvick had too much speed on them both, however, and gradually started to ease away. His work was made easier when Stenhouse and Sadler started to fight among themselves over second, and the spat ended in disaster for Sadler when contact tried a move under the #6 through turns 3 and 4, made contact and crashed into the wall. Fortunately the damage to Sadler’s car was relatively light and he would be able to continue the race and finish in 12th place despite dropping a lap off the lead at one point, but it was still a major blow to his championship battle over Stenhouse for the 2012 Nationwide title.