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Darlington win puts Kevin Harvick in driver's seat for NASCAR championship field

Photos from Kevin Harvick's win at the Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington for Stewart-Haas Racing
Photos from Kevin Harvick's win at the Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Darlington for Stewart-Haas Racing
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing, passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the closing overtime laps of the Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway Saturday night to grab the win. Harvick’s second victory of the season all but cements a spot in NASCAR’s championship field.

Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on April 12, 2014 in Darlington, South Carolina.
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

“In the end you're as good as the people around you and hopefully we can keep getting better,” Harvick said at a post-race press conference about the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) organization. “I feel like we have as an organization and team, we have a lot of room for improvement, and we just have to keep picking it apart one piece at a time.”

Earnhardt finished .558 of a second behind Harvick, while Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman completed the top-10.

Unlike previous years when participants in NASCAR's championship field were determined by points alone, the new format for 2014 rewards winning. Currently after eight races, seven drivers have won in NASCAR's premier series with Harvick the only driver with two wins.

Harvick's win was the 22nd point-paying Sprint Cup win for SHR since its inception in 2009 and the organization’s third this season, the most for any Sprint Cup team this year. Kurt Busch won earlier this season at Martinsville Speedway.

Harvick started from the pole and led seven times for a race-high 238 laps on his way to his first win in 18 career Sprint Cup starts at Darlington. It was also his 25th career victory in 474 career Sprint Cup starts.

Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished ninth, Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 22nd and Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 31st.

Busch ran in the top-15 for the majority of the night but was unable to survive the first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish when his car was hit from behind and the damage was too extensive for him to continue.

After eight races, Stewart leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings where he is 12th with 224 points, 73 behind first-place driver Jeff Gordon. Harvick is 22nd, Busch is 26th and Patrick is 29th.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers will have a break from the action over the Easter weekend before heading to Richmond International Raceway April 26 for the Richmond 400 under the lights.