DARLINGTON, S.C. -- It is well, for all the rest of NASCAR, that Kevin Harvick's luck has been so lousy this season. Otherwise he might have been unbeatable. His win in the Southern 500 might have been more than just his second of 2014. There might have been nowhere near seven different winners in seven races before he blasted open the parity streak Saturday night.
Twice now he's had any sort of luck at all. And twice he has overwhelmed all competition.
This win was more entertaining than the last one, at Phoenix March 2, when he ran off into a different zip code and stayed there all afternoon.
This time, late cautions kept the show going, even though Harvick dominated all evening, leading 238 of the 367 laps.
But not once in the race could he rest easy.
"After the last several weeks, we're nervous every lap," he said in Victory Lane after his first win at storied, treacherous old Darlington Raceway. "We've had a lot of crazy things happen."
Luck, mechanical failures, tire issues and mishaps had left him with finishes of 41st, 39th, 36th, seventh and 42nd since his Phoenix win.
Yet, his Stewart Haas Racing crewmen "have just kept their heads down and we've had really fast race cars over the last several weeks," Harvick said, "and tonight we were able to put a whole race together."
A caution with 10 laps left and then two attempts at green-white-checkered "made it a lot more stressful than we'd have liked," Harvick said.
And they made it a lot more disappointing for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished second, than he'd ever imagined here before. His father won here nine times, but Junior had never managed to finish better than fourth until Saturday night.
"It's real disappointing to come so close," Earnhardt said, "because I know I don't really run that well here, and the opportunities to win are going to be few, compared to other tracks.
"It hurts a little bit to come this far," Earnhardt continued. "Running second is great, but nobody's going to remember that."
The late stages were tantalizing for both Earnhardt and third-finishing Jimmie Johnson, both of whom snatched the lead from Harvick late.
For those moments, a four-tire call by Harvick's crew chief, Rodney Childers, looked bad. But at the end the call looked brilliant.
On the final stop, Johnson and Earnhardt took two tires each and got out first and second, with Harvick back in fifth.
The green flag flew with five laps left, and Johnson -- who remains winless this season -- jumped out front.
"Things were really going our way when we took two tires, and got the restart under control, and had a good lead there," Johnson said. "Then the caution came out [due to debris on the track]. At that point I saw that with two tires, we were probably in big trouble."
It looked the same for Earnhardt, but then on the first attempt at green-white-checkered, he got a huge push from the onrushing Harvick that sent Earnhardt to the front and set his legion in the grandstands roaring.
But before the white flag that would have frozen the field and sealed Earnhardt's win, Kurt Busch spun on the backstretch -- apparently with help from Clint Bowyer -- and Earnhardt's lead was snuffed.
On the restart it was Johnson who gave Earnhardt the big push, but it wasn't enough to hold off Harvick, who easily blasted back into the lead as they came to the white flag.
Thus, Harvick really did lock himself into the Chase this time. He'd thought that after the Phoenix win, but his plummet in the standings left questions. "Win-you're-in" works only if there are 16 winners or fewer, and if the driver in question finishes in the top 30 in points. Harvick's luck had dropped him all the way to 26th in the standings coming into this race.
But a second win is another matter. There can't be 16 multiple winners in 26 regular-season races. So he's in.
"That feels great," he said. The new point system has "allowed us to go for wins and not have to worry about the bad weeks too much."
So, in becoming the first multiple-race winner of the season, Harvick also became the first prime example of the whole point of the new system: Winning races matters more than anything. Even lousy luck.