SONOMA, Calif. — Kevin Harvick led a 1-2-3 podium sweep for Ford while proving that veteran experience still counts for something in NASCAR.
Harvick returned to victory lane for the first time this season with a dominating run Sunday on the road course at Sonoma Raceway. The former NASCAR champion came to Sonoma winless in 20 races since Kansas last fall and has been overshadowed in this season of NASCAR’s young new superstars.
But at a track where experience and ability can separate the field, it was Harvick and a bunch of veterans who led the way. It was the first win on the winding wine country road course in 17 tries for the Bakersfield, California, driver.
Sonoma was one of just four active tracks where Harvick had never before scored a Cup victory. He did, however, win the K&N Series race at Sonoma on Saturday and it may have given him some inside knowledge.
“It kept me from sitting around and trying to find something to do on Saturday,” Harvick said. “I think that was the biggest thing. I’m sitting around and there’s guys out here making laps and learning things, and I think that’s the most important thing is to never take for granted that you have to try to expand your knowledge and keep an open mind to making things better.
“To finally check this one off the list …. being so close to home and having raced here so much, this was one that was on the top of the list.”
Harvick was on cruise control and conserving fuel in the race that ended under caution after Kasey Kahne had a hard accident on the final lap. Either way, Harvick had a cozy 9-second lead over Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer before the caution.
Bowyer, now the driver for the entry Tony Stewart used for his final NASCAR victory last year at the track, was second and Brad Keselowski third as Ford cars went 1-2-3.
For Harvick, it was the first victory since Stewart-Haas Racing switched to Ford this season. Harvick had spent 16 years in a Chevrolet.
It was Ford’s seventh victory of the season. Ford won eight Cup races last season, and seven came exclusively from Team Penske drivers. This year, the manufacturer has wins from Penske, Roush-Fenway Racing, The Wood Brothers and SHR.
“I had mixed emotions about how the year was going to go just because of the fact that we had a lot on our plate to switch over,” Harvick said. “It’s just a big undertaking, and one day I think when we get done with this year, I think everybody will actually learn all the details of all the things that it took to get to this particular point. It’s a huge undertaking, and I think it says a lot about our people at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Martin Truex Jr. led 25 laps but suffered an engine failure and finished 37th. Truex won the first stage of the race, his series-leading 11th stage victory. Jimmie Johnson won the second stage, his first stage victory of the season, but finished 13th overall.
Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray started on the pole for Chip Ganassi Racing and hoped to give the owner a sweep of Sunday after Scott Dixon won the IndyCar race at Road America in Wisconsin. But Larson, the points leader, was never a factor and finished 26th. McMurray was 10th.
Most of the top 10 was comprised of veterans. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were fourth and fifth in Toyota, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sixth and the highest-finishing Chevrolet. Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch was seventh.
Then came Dawsonville native Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, who along with Larson are part of the newest faces of NASCAR.
KAHNE’S CRASH: Kahne was in a hard accident on the final lap of the race and had harsh words for Kevin O’Connell, who was making his Cup debut.
“No. 15, no clue who he is, I saw him a lot today lapping him, but he went low down the front stretch and then just, I was going to his outside and he just turned right and just hit me, put me straight in the wall,” Kahne said. “No clue what he was thinking. You obviously don’t know what he’s doing either.”
BOWYER’S BIG DAY: He couldn’t catch teammate Harvick for the win, but Bowyer still finished a season-best second. He was content with that and knows how hard his new SHR team is working.
He also understood that Harvick was eventually going to get a win.
“Let’s face it, you’re not going to keep that team that’s won a championship, won all these races in the last five years, you’re not going to keep them out of winning,” Bowyer said.
DAYS’S DEBUT: Alon Day became the first Israeli driver to start a race at NASCAR’s highest level. He finished 32nd out of 40. The 25-year-old from Tel Aviv as named Israel’s 2016 “Athlete of the Year.”
Day won the NASCAR Whelen Euro race in England on June 11 at Brands Hatch. He was planning to return to Israel after that race, then got the call to race at Sonoma.
UP NEXT: Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway, which will be billed as the potential last stop at the Florida track for retiring driver Earnhardt Jr. But Earnhardt stressed at Sonoma he is only retiring from “full-time” competition, and did not close the door on running there again, specifically the Daytona 500.