CONCORD, N.C.—The Closer finally closed the deal, and the door swung almost shut on Dale Earnhardt Jr., six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and 2012 champion Brad Keselowski.
With the dominant car in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick led 162 laps and survived a wild two-lap dash to the finish after the final caution en route to his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season and a free pass into the Eliminator Round of the Chase.
Harvick pulled away after a restart on Lap 333 of 334 and beat Jeff Gordon to the finish line by .572 seconds. Jamie McMurray ran third, followed by Joey Logano and polesitter Kyle Busch.
Keselowski and Johnson got shuffled back to 16th and 17th after the restart with two laps left, after a caution for Brian Vickers’ Brian Vickers blown engine on Lap 327. After the race, Keselowski and ninth-place finisher Denny Hamlin traded insults on pit road in the wake of a late race incident between their two cars.
Keselowski clipped Hamlin’s rear bumper on the cool-down lap, then hit Kenseth’s Toyota with his Ford on pit road after the race.
In retaliation, Kenseth jumped Keselowski as he was walking between haulers, and the drivers scuffled before being separated.
Both Johnson and Keselowski head to Talladega on Oct. 19 in all probability needing a victory to advance to avoid elimination from the Chase. The same goes for Earnhardt, whose shifter broke early in the race and relegated the driver of the No. 88 to a 20th-place finish, one lap down.
Rookie Kyle Larson ran sixth, followed by Chase drivers Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Hamlin and Kasey Kahne.
With the cut from 12 to eight Chase drivers looming at Talladega, Kenseth, Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt are the four drivers currently in positions 9 through 12 in the standings.