LOUDON, N.H. -- Kevin Harvick's bizarre 2019 season got less bizarre Sunday, July 21, when the Stewart-Haas Racing driver finally got his first victory. It came when he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 30 laps in winning the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In 2018, Harvick won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-best eight races. This year, win No. 1 came just seven races before the start of the playoffs.
"We've run well enough a few times to win," Harvick, who has five top-five finishes this year, said. "We just made mistakes. To finally battle and get over that hump is a great day for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing and everybody on the 4 car."
The victory, which came as he and Hamlin beat on each other's car heading to the finish line, assures Harvick a berth in those playoffs.
The margin of victory was .21 seconds.
Hamlin said he thought he could have dumped Harvick on the final lap and got the win. But, he said, "I wanted to just tap him there but I didn't want to completely screw him. I at least wanted to give him a fair shot there."
He then paused, and said, "Second sucks."
After taking the checkers, Harvick took a reverse victory lap around the 1-mile track in Loudon, N.H.
Erik Jones, Hamlin's teammate, finished third. Ryan Blaney of Team Penske was fourth, and Matt DiBenedetto was fifth.
Kyle Busch dominated the first two stages of the race as he led 118 laps. But a wheel rub early in Stage 3 dropped him back to 15th. Attempting to drive back up to the front, he got loose and slapped the wall while running seventh. He finished eighth.
Benefiting was Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin, who restarted the final stage in first place and held it for the next 113 laps. He gave that lead up when he pitted under yellow with 35 laps to go.
Harvick did not stop under yellow and inherited the lead for the restart with 29 laps to go, but on old tires. Hamlin, with two fresh right-side tires, closed in but could not make the winning pass.
Harvick said afterward he thought the move to stay on old tires was the wrong one.
"I didn't think we had the best chance staying out there (on old tires)," said Harvick, who collected his fourth New Hampshire win.
His crew chief, Rodney Childers, insisted. Harvick was, Childers said, in a "Really bad spot with track position. That track position was key today and clean air."
With just six races remaining to the 16-driver playoffs after the New Hampshire event, a lot of eyes were on bubble drivers. Several had bad days.
Clint Bowyer's freefall in the points standings continued in Loudon. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was 14th in points when the race started but was involved in a wreck late in Stage 2. Appearing to be in great shape to make the postseason early in the summer, Bowyer finished 20th and has now logged finishes of 20th or worst in four of his last six races.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson started the day 15th in points, but a belt failure knocked him back 13 laps off the pace. He finished 30th.
Kyle Larson,13th in the standings before the race, spun on a late restart, blew a tire and slammed the wall with 37 laps to go and finished in the garages.