Two of America’s best drivers lined up side by side with 17 miles to go to the finish.
At the green flag, the leader was an 11-time track winner and a seven-time national champion, making perhaps his final appearance behind the wheel at a place that has already labeled him ‘The Master.’ And he was the underdog.
Kevin Harvick showed why he was the favorite in that duel by passing Jimmie Johnson one lap into a restart before pulling away to win the "Drydene 311" NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, concluding the "Drydene Doubleheader Weekend" and 1,347 total miles of racing across three days and six events.
Harvick, driving the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, topped Martin Truex Jr. by 3.525 seconds for his seventh victory of the season and gave Ford its 700th win in the Cup Series. Harvick’s 56th Cup Series win ties him for ninth on the all-time list with Kyle Busch, and he also clinched NASCAR’s regular season championship and the 15 bonus points that go with it with one race remaining before the postseason begins.
"I am just really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing for being able to drive this car," said Harvick, who led a race-high 223 laps. "Week after week they just put so much effort into making this thing go fast and it has been a great year."
Harvick is the 18th driver to win three or more NASCAR Cup Series races at The Monster Mile. The leader of that bunch, of course, is Johnson, who took just two tires while Harvick took four during a final round of pit stops following a caution flag on Lap 290. That gamble by Johnson’s team led to the final showdown at the restart.
"I knew when we hit the gas and the No. 4 car was staying with me going into Turn 1 we were in trouble," said Johnson, who finished third in his final Dover visit of his last full-time Cup Series season. "We really just had to gamble. It netted a better finish.
"This place is a blast to drive. I always enjoy making laps here. If the phone ever rings for me to come back and I get to pick a track, it would be this one."
Truex finished second for the second straight Dover race, and earned a top-three finish for the seventh consecutive Cup Series event.
"Second or third it seems like every week here," Truex said. "On one hand, it’s good obviously and you want to be running up front and having good finishes. On the other hand, we didn’t get any better than we were yesterday – it was actually a little bit worse. I was a little disappointed in that. These things are really, really tricky to figure out to get them right."
With one race to go to determine the playoff field, Johnson trails William Byron (fourth on Sunday) by four points and Matt DiBenedetto by nine points for the 16th and final postseason spot.
Harvick averaged 110.994 mph to complete the 311 miles in 2 hours, 48 minutes and 7 seconds and swept all three stages for seven additional playoff points. Twenty-one drivers finished on the lead lap, a Dover Cup Series record.
Aric Almirola (seventh), Kyle Busch (11th) and Kurt Busch (13th) clinched their spots in the postseason as the NASCAR Cup Series stars completed an unprecedented 622 tough miles over a two-day period. Two of the favorites in that postseason will be Harvick and Denny Hamlin, Saturday’s Dover winner who slipped to 19th Sunday after an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel in the final stage.
"With Denny winning yesterday we needed to win today and we need all the points we can get," Harvick said. "I think as you look at these playoffs, you never know what to expect. I know that as we go week to week we will give it all we have and I am just really proud."