Kevin Harvick won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, scoring his first win of the season and also the first of his career on the tricky, demanding 1.99-mile road course.
With five laps to go, Harvick held an 8.5-second lead on Clint Bowyer, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate who was coming fast behind him.
And Harvick already was in fuel-conservation mode, just in case he was going to come up short in his No. 4 SHR Ford.
He didn’t, and Bowyer couldn’t catch him, either. That enabled Harvick to score the 36th victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
Bowyer ended up finishing second, with Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five.
Harvick thus led a 1-2-3 finish for Ford, earning his first win for the manufacturer in his No. 4 car after Stewart-Haas Racing made the switch from Chevrolets at the start of this season.
“I am so excited,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at it, getting our first win with Ford, this has been a great journey for us as an organization and team. … It is a great day.”
But the Ford contingent didn’t dominate the entire day.
Martin Truex Jr. won the first stage in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, giving him a series-high 11 on the season. Jimmie Johnson took the Stage 2 win in his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy.
And in between, there was plenty of on-track action.
Two separate incidents involved the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Danica Patrick – although neither was her fault and she actually drove a pretty solid race after starting from the sixth position.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who started 10th in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, attempted to pass Patrick for sixth heading into Turn 11 on Lap 13. But Earnhardt spun to the inside of Patrick’s car bring out the first caution.
Both cars suffered damage but were able to stay in the race.
Then, on Lap 31, just after a restart for the end of Stage 1, Kyle Larson, Earnhardt and Patrick tried to go three-wide entering Turn 4 – with an impatient Larson, who started from the pole and was trying to get back toward the front, appearing to push the issue.
It did not end well.
Larson, who was on the inside of the others, made contact with Earnhardt in the middle, who in turn went up into Patrick.
After the contact, Patrick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Ford turned around and she collected the Roush Fenway Racing Ford driven by boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who plowed into her car.
Stenhouse got the worst of it and was unable to continue in his heavily damaged No. 17 car. He ended up being scored last in the 38-car field and was none too happy about it afterward.
“I didn’t need to see the replay, I was sitting in the seat,” Stenhouse said. “They were three-wide in front of us trying to go through Turn 4, which never works. They were all dive-bombing each other and then the 10 (of Patrick) got spinning and I tried to go low and she just kept coming down the track.
“We just clipped it a little bit and tore the left front up too bad to continue. It is a bummer for our day. We felt like we had probably a decent Sonoma car for us.”
The No. 78 Toyota of Truex was better than decent. But after leading a race-high 25 laps, the engine expired in the car with 23 laps left in the race, ending Truex’s day.
“It’s very disappointing. We were sitting there running second on seven cylinders … We were crazy fast and making great power, just couldn’t go the distance,” Truex said.
Harvick did, taking the checkered flag under the yellow caution flag after Kasey Kahne crashed hard behind him on the final lap. Kahne was treated and released from the infield care center after the race while Harvick went on to celebrate in Victory Lane with crew chief Rodney Childers and the rest of his Stewart-Haas team.
“It finally all came together and we were able to not have any cautions there at the end,” Harvick said. “Rodney had great strategy and I was able to take care of the car and get out front. I felt like the 78 (of Truex) was the car we had to race and then he had problems — and from there we were in control.”