Kevin Harvick cannot be stopped.
After winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 41-year-old Californian continued his domination of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with yet another victory in the TicketGuardian 500, his ninth win at ISM Raceway.
Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole, but was surrounded by Chevrolets as Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott started second, third, and fourth, respectively. Larson pulled ahead to lead the first lap and establish a solid lead over Truex. By lap four, much of the field had organized into a single file.
A competition caution was scheduled for lap 35, but it was called ten laps earlier when Corey LaJoie‘s engine failed to bring out the yellow flag. For LaJoie, this marked his second blown engine in two races in 2018.
Truex and Larson led the race off pit road, while Elliott lost five spots and Bowman fell to twenty-fourth after running eighth following a poor stop of his own. The green flag waved on lap 34 as Larson continued to lead. Truex was passed by the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch to drop to fourth. Busch passed Larson for first on lap 56, while Larson fell to third upon being overtaken by Harvick.
Busch went on to win his first stage of 2018, followed by Harvick, Larson, Hamlin, Truex, Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, and Erik Jones. Busch continued to lead for the start of the second stage on lap 84, while Larson lost four spots for the restart.
Throughout the early portion of the second stage, Larson commented on his wheels shaking too much. On lap 121, this issue would cause the caution to come out when he spun.
On his pit stop, Keselowski only took two tires and gained seven spots on pit road to become the new leader for the restart on lap 127. Keselowski took off on the outside line, but Kyle Busch reclaimed the lead a lap later. Truex caught up to Busch to run in second.
With four laps remaining in the stage, Chris Buescher‘s tire went down and he hit the wall to force a yellow. Most of the leaders, including Busch and Truex, pitted so they would not have to between stages, while others like Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Michael McDowell stayed out. Busch held off Keselowski on the one-lap dash to win the stage. Behind him were Keselowski, Stenhouse, Kyle Busch, Ty Dillon, McDowell, Harvick, Truex, Clint Bowyer, and Kasey Kahne.
Busch elected to pit before the start of the third stage and restarted twenty-fourth. As such, brother Kyle and Harvick comprised the front row for the green flag on lap 159. Harvick took the lead from Busch on lap 178.
On lap 190, Paul Menard spun in turn two and hit the wall. William Byron and Aric Almirola changed two tires to occupy the front row for the restart on lap 197.
Byron led for 15 laps before Hamlin and Harvick crept up on the rookie and passed him in a three-wide battle. Kyle Busch also entered the picture as Byron fell out of the top four. Harvick, Hamlin, and Busch began to fight for the lead as Hamlin and Busch led 33 and 18 laps, respectively. The three-way showdown allowed Elliott to close in and catch up, eventually passing Hamlin for third.
With 58 laps remaining in the race, Byron began the cycle of green flag pit stops, with Elliott and the leaders following. Keselowski stayed out to become the leader until he did the same on lap 268, enabling Ryan Newman – who was running twelfth when stops commenced – to lead laps. The defending race winner would lead 23 laps. Behind him, Harvick and Elliott dueled for fourth in what would effectively decide who would win the race when those in front finally pitted. Harvick cleared Elliott for the “lead” on lap 274, and solidified his position upon passing Kahne for third.
Newman finally pitted on lap 290, which cycled Harvick back into the lead. Elliott was unable to catch Harvick as he claimed his third straight win and 40th Cup victory. Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Elliott, Hamlin, Truex, Bowyer, Almirola, Daniel Suárez, Jones, and Kurt Busch. With Harvick’s win and the runs by Bowyer, Almirola, and Busch, Stewart-Haas Racing successfully placed all four cars in the top ten.
Harvick is the first driver to win three consecutive Cup races since Kyle Busch accomplished the feat in 2015, and at 41, he joins Bobby Allison (1983) and Harry Gant (1991) as the only drivers over 40 years old to do so.
The win comes with sweet redemption for the 2014 champion. His Las Vegas triumph was marred by an L1-level penalty in which a rear window brace caused the window to bend; NASCAR mandates the window must be rigid at all times. This resulted in the loss of his car chief to a three-race suspension, the nullification of his playoffs points for the weekend, and the loss of 20 driver’s championship points. Harvick celebrated his Phoenix win by climbing atop his car and pounding the offending region.
“I’m 42 and I’ve been doing this a long time and any time you can reach out and grab motivation, for me that’s just a piece of a puzzle that I like to be a part of and feel the controversy and that enthusiasm and succeeding in these types of moments with all that controversy swirling around you, there’s nothing better,” Harvick stated.
It is Harvick’s ninth win at Phoenix, a track where he has long established himself as the top driver. In 31 starts, he has 20 top-ten finishes and 15 top-five runs. The TicketGuardian 500 is the final race at ISM Raceway under the current layout; for the fall race in November, the track will feature renovations and the start/finish line being moved to the dog leg region near turn two.
“Lots of great memories for all in this picture at this start finish line that will be no more!”
Next week, Harvick seeks to become the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to win four straight Cup races as the series travels to Auto Club Speedway for the Auto Club 400. Larson is the reigning winner.
2018 TicketGuardian 500 results
|1||10||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||312 (38)||Running|
|2||7||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||312 (128)||Running|
|3||3||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||312||Running|
|4||6||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||312 (33)||Running|
|5||1||78||Martin Truex Jr.||Furniture Row Racing||Toyota||312||Running|
|6||19||14||Clint Bowyer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||312||Running|
|7||22||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||312||Running|
|8||15||19||Daniel Suárez||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||312||Running|
|9||9||20||Erik Jones||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||312||Running|
|10||23||41||Kurt Busch||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||312||Running|
|11||13||31||Ryan Newman||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||312 (23)||Running|
|12||11||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||312 (15)||Running|
|13||4||88||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||312||Running|
|14||17||48||Jimmie Johnson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||312||Running|
|15||25||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||312 (12)||Running|
|16||12||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||311||Running|
|17||18||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||311||Running|
|18||2||42||Kyle Larson||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||311 (54)||Running|
|19||5||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||311||Running|
|20||21||6||Trevor Bayne||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||311||Running|
|21||20||47||A.J. Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||311||Running|
|22||16||38||David Ragan||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||311||Running|
|23||29||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||311||Running|
|24||26||95||Kasey Kahne||Leavine Family Racing||Chevrolet||311||Running|
|25||30||32||Matt DiBenedetto||Go Fas Racing||Ford||311||Running|
|26||8||1||Jamie McMurray||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||310||Running|
|27||36||15||Ross Chastain||Premium Motorsports||Chevrolet||310||Running|
|28||27||43||Darrell Wallace Jr.||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||309||Running|
|29||24||37||Chris Buescher||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||309||Running|
|30||28||13||Ty Dillon||Germain Racing||Chevrolet||309||Running|
|31||34||96||D.J. Kennington||Gaunt Brothers Racing||Toyota||309||Running|
|32||31||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||308||Running|
|33||35||51||Timmy Hill||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||306||Running|
|34||32||23||Gray Gaulding||BK Racing||Toyota||304||Running|
|35||37||0||Jeffrey Earnhardt||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||292||Running|
|36||14||21||Paul Menard||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||189||Crash|
|37||33||72||Corey LaJoie||TriStar Motorsports||Chevrolet||23||Engine|