Kevin Harvick has won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory is a crucial one for his 2017 season, as it earns the Stewart-Haas Racing driver a spot in the all-important championship-deciding race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks time.
The race came down to a one-on-one duel in the closing stages, with Harvick trying to hunt down Martin Truex Jr with twenty laps remaining. Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team had made some adjustments during the final pit-stops which made the #4 the fastest car out on the circuit. He was able to cruise up to the back of the #78 of Truex, but passing was proving to be harder.
Harvick had been able to pass Denny Hamlin for third when the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver made a mistake and got off of the ideal racing line on the bottom of the race track. Truex was hardly making a mistake. When Martin did make a mistake and moved slightly up a lane, Kevin followed him and then dropped back over a second behind. Harvick got back into the rhythm quickly, however, managing to get right back to the bumper of Truex, even enough to destabilize the #78 on one occasion.
His chance to pass finally came with less than ten laps to go. Harvick managed to slingshot his way to the outside through turns one and two, with the pair remaining side-by-side all the way down the back straightaway and into turns three and four, Harvick would hold on with the better momentum into the corner and would complete the pass before building up a gap over the last few laps of the race.
Harvick would cross the line just under two-seconds clear to take his second win of the season, his first-ever at Texas Motor Speedway and his thirty-seventh win in the NASCAR Cup Series. Most importantly, however, it earns him a spot in the championship four; the group of four drivers that will be in contention for the title in the winner-takes-all showdown at Homestead-Miami Speedway in just two weeks time.
“This feels so good. We have been qualifying well here and racing well ever since I have been at Stewart-Haas Racing and just never got it to work out to go to victory lane.” Said Harvick, who earned Stewart-Haas their third win since switching manufacturers to Ford for this season, “Today we had to earn it. To be able to pass the 78 car for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5-mile at Homestead to race for the championship. I am really proud of everyone on our Mobil 1 Ford. This thing was a hot rod today.”
Despite missing out on what would’ve been his seventh win on a 1.5-mile oval this year, Truex Jr’s sheer number of playoff points that he’s accumulated with stage and race victories during the regular season and the playoffs, he now has an unassailable points advantage over his playoff rivals currently below the cut-line heading into the elimination race at Phoenix next week. This means that he will join Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in the championship four; leaving just one spot up for grabs at next week’s race.
Denny Hamlin looked to have the car to beat in the opening moments of the race, with the #11 JGR Camry driver winning the first stage of the race after taking the lead from pole-sitter Kurt Busch early on. In the end, he would be unable to hold off the hard-charging Harvick and he couldn’t run down the #78 of Truex. He’d settle for third place, with team-mate Matt Kenseth finishing just behind in fourth.
Taking positions five through six would be the Team Penske duo and their 2018 team-mate Ryan Blaney. Brad Keselowski would be the first over the line in fifth despite going two laps down early on in the race after contact with Kyle Busch on lap one. Blaney would follow just behind in sixth, with Joey Logano taking seventh place in the #22 car.
Chase Elliott started at the rear of the field after not setting a time in qualifying due to his car failing inspection on numerous occasions. His #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had great pace in the opening stage, climbing from the back of the pack to the top ten, but he was unable to make inroads on the front-runners further up the order. He would take eighth place, but he remains in a must-win situation heading into next week’s race if he wants to make it into the championship four.
Pole-sitter Kurt Busch ran inside the top five for much of the first half of the race, but he would fade to ninth place in the closing stages. Erik Jones would complete the top ten in the #77. He won the NASCAR XFINITY Series race the day before, but his car wasn’t able to stick with the leaders in the Cup series.
Two of the eight championship contenders failed to finish inside the top ten at Texas. Kyle Busch will be thankful that he already earned his championship four spot with his win a week ago at Martinsville, as his race in Texas was a tough one. He made contact with Keselowski on the first lap of the race that forced him to pit road for repairs. This put him a number of laps down, but he fought his way back onto the lead lap thanks to hard driving and well-timed cautions. He would eventually finish down in nineteenth place.
Finally, it was a torrid day for reigning Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson. The #48 Hendrick Motorsports driver entered the event as the most recent Texas winner having won at the Speedway at the start of the season. However, he fell through the pack like a stone throughout the race and eventually finished three laps down on the race-leaders and in the twenty-seventh position. If he wants to defend his championship this year, all his hopes now rest on next week’s race at Phoenix. Nothing short of a win will do.
With Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr having all secured their championship four spots, just one place remains for the five other contenders to fight over. Next week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway for the Can-Am 500, the penultimate race of the season where Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson will all be contending for one last spot in the championship decider at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – AAA Texas 500 – race results:
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