There was no doubt which of his two Darlington Raceway victories this year Kevin Harvick enjoyed more.
Harvick had a large smile as he waved to the 8,000 or so fans – the May 17 event here was run without spectators due to the coronavirus pandemic – and even gave the checkered flag to a young fan wearing one of his shirts.
Harvick had reason to be happy, taking the Southern 500 when leaders Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. bumped as Truex tried to make a pass and both brushed the wall.
Harvick was there to take advantage – and begin NASCAR’s playoff the best way possible.
Harvick, the 2014 series champion, recorded his eighth win this year put him into the second round.
Elliott and Truex had the most speed throughout – Truex won the first two stages – and were once again dueling for lead. Once they touched and hit the wall, things opened up for Harvick, who suddenly found himself out front.
Elliott dropped off the pace and Harvick passed him for second. Truex – who led a race-high 196 laps – had to pit for repairs on his damaged car, giving Harvick a clear path to the finish.
Harvick had to hold off a hard-charging Austin Dillon, a driver few predict will advance very far into the playoffs, to seal the victory in his Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Dillon, in a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, was second. Joey Logano in a Ford for Team Penske was third.
Erik Jones, the defending Southern 500 winner who is being replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the season, finished fourth in a Toyota. Jones was the only non-playoff driver in the top 10.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Alex Bowman were fifth and sixth, followed by reigning series champion Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and SHR teammates Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer.
Elliott wound up 20th while Truex was a lap down in 22nd.
The second playoff race is at Richmond Raceway on Saturday night.