As the ninth 2014 Sprint Cup Series race, the 400-lap Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on the weekend was jam-packed with excitement, with the final laps seeing four drivers battling for first place right up to the finish line. Joey Logano took the checkered flag, with Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski following in second, third and fourth place respectively. Having started in 17th position, Logano led for 46 laps during the race, and was in the position to take advantage of a caution that bunched up the field by passing and moving into first place. In a post-race interview Logano made reference to the new Sprint Cup emphasis on winning, saying “The heck with it! If we crash, we crash! We’re going for wins!”
The Saturday night race started with a first-turn crash, where Clint Bowyer rear-ended Kyle Larson sending him into the wall, and included at least five cars experiencing flash fires thought to have been caused by the new Goodyear rubber compound. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the safety of Goodyear’s new product is in question. As a NASCAR sponsor since 1954, Goodyear has been the sole tire supplier for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide, and NASCAR Camping World Truck series since 1997. Acknowledging the problem, Goodyear Racing executive Stu Grant noted that the company would have to work on a solution.
After the race, four time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon was quoted as saying: “That was one of the wildest races with ten to go I’ve ever seen.” Gordon led 173 laps in the race and finished in second place. Kyle Bush moved from sixteenth place to third in the last eight laps of the race, after failing to lead any laps in the race. Brad Keselowski started in second place, led 114 laps and finished in fourth place.
By taking the checkered flag in the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway Saturday night, Kevin Harvick became the first driver of the season with more than one win. He also became the first NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to win from pole position at Darlington since Dale Jarrett in 1997. In his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick won the 2014 The Profit on CNBC500, the second race of the season. This early-season victory was followed by a number of misfortunes for Harvick, include a hub failure at Las Vegas resulting in a 41st place finish; a cut oil line at Bristol resulting in a 39th place finish; a blown tire at Fontana resulting in a 36th place finish; and an engine failure at Texas resulting in a 42nd place finish.
While Harvick started the race in pole position, his win certainly wasn’t a done deal. After the 258th lap caution, Harvick reportedly decided to get four new tires on his next pit stop. Other drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson took two, giving them a slight time advantage which dropped Harvick to fifth position. By the time Kurt Busch wrecked on the 369th lap, resulting in another caution, Harvick had maneuvered his way into second position. Then, passing Earnhardt on the green-white-checker flag, Harvick held his first place position to the finish line, and it appears very likely that his decision to take four tires when he did helped him to victory.
With the new scoring structure, where ultimately victories have more value than points, Harvick is in the lead for a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Jeff Gordon is in the lead with points, but remains eighth in the standings as he has not yet scored a win. The minimum requirement to qualify for the Chase is one trip to Victory Lane, so two such trips has a clear advantage for Harvick.
2014 Sprint Cup standings according to victories and points thus far (in order) are Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch. The next NASCAR Sprint Cup race is the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday, April 26.