Kevin Harvick continues to flex his muscles on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit. In just eleven races so far, Harvick has recorded four wins, the latest coming in Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway.
Kyle Larson started on the pole alongside Harvick, but the latter could not lead the field to the green flag as he failed inspection three times. Car chief David Bryant was ejected as a result, while Martin Truex Jr. inherited Larson’s front row spot.
It did not take long for the first caution of the day to come out; after just four laps, Michael McDowell was bumped by Darrell Wallace Jr. and spun in turn three. Larson and Alex Bowman decided to pit while the rest of the leaders stayed out, with the restart taking place on lap eight. Larson and Bowman’s strategy would put them at the front of the field when the next yellow flag was waved on lap 21 for Corey LaJoie‘s engine failure; LaJoie’s #72 has struggled with such issues during the 2018 season, with this being the third blown engine in four races for him. As Austin Dillon led Harvick off pit road, Larson and Bowman stayed out to occupy the front row for the lap 25 restart.
As Bowman led, Larson dropped when Brad Keselowski and Truex moved past him. Keselowski took the lead on lap 48, and Truex and Harvick also passed Bowman shortly after. Truex attempted to make a move on Keselowski, but eventually pitted on lap 96 due to tire issues. He was not the only driver experiencing problems regarding tires and fuel as multiple teams reported concern about making it to the end of the stage. Those like Kyle Busch attempted to conserve fuel, while others like Paul Menard and Ryan Newman began suffering from tire problems, with the former heading to the garage to repair damage. Larson suffered a pass-through penalty for an uncontrolled tire and fell to thirty-first, three laps down. Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones were able to squeeze in their stops prior to the green-checkered flag.
While others attempted to solve their pit situations, Harvick scored his series-best fifth stage win of the season. Behind him were Busch, Keselowski, Daniel Suárez, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney.
Harvick won the race off pit road and remained the leader alongside Keselowski for the start of Stage #2 on lap 127. The race ran green until lap 154, when Derrike Cope hit the outside wall in turn four before colliding with the inside wall. Cope, the manager of StarCom Racing, was making his season debut in the team’s new #99 car. The front row for the lap 159 restart once again consisted of Keselowski and Harvick. Keselowski led 46 laps until Harvick took the lead at the race’s halfway point on lap 200, and the latter would go on to win a second stage ahead of Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Bowyer, Suárez, Truex, Blaney, Elliott, and Logano.
Stage #3 began on lap 294 with Harvick remaining in first. Four laps later, Cody Ware, also running his first Cup race of 2018, hit the wall and suffered heavy rear damage. Another restart occurred on lap 259, lasting until Kyle Busch lost his driveshaft on lap 271. For the next green flag on lap 281, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray did not pit and became the new leaders, though the latter quickly fell through the running order.
Bowyer closed in on Stenhouse and overtook him for first on lap 298. After nineteen laps, rain began to fall on the track, resulting in a red flag; concerns about the weather was prominent throughout the morning, and the fear of a delay resulted in the race being moved up by ten minutes. 41 minutes later, the rain cleared up and track conditions were reverted to yellow. The entire field pitted, with Bowyer keeping his position as Keselowski suffered a poor stop. Multiple drivers, including Reed Sorenson, A.J. Allmendinger, and Ty Dillon, suffered penalties, while Logano was forced to return to pit road a second time for a loose wheel.
Green flag racing resumed on lap 75 as Bowyer led Harvick. Bowyer kept his Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate at bay for thirteen more laps, but Harvick took the lead on lap 338 and began to pull away. By the checkered flag, Harvick was ahead of Bowyer by over six seconds. Behind the SHR pair were Suárez, who recorded a career-best third-place finish, Truex, Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin, Blaney, Johnson, and Larson.
It is Harvick’s first win at Dover since 2015. With the victory, Harvick is one win away from tying his 2014 season’s five-win count. With twenty-five races left on the schedule, it is not unsurprising to many that Harvick has a good chance of surpassing it.
“Three cars in the top five says a lot about where we are as a company,” Harvick stated in Victory Lane. In addition to Harvick and Bowyer finishing in the top two, their SHR team-mate Busch finished fifth, while fellow Ford drives Keselowski and Blaney joined them in the top ten. “It’s fun racing your team-mate. That says a lot about our company and one of your good friends as well.”
Next week, the Cup Series travels to Kansas Speedway for the KC Masterpiece 400. Truex is the defending winner.
2018 AAA 400 Drive for Autism results
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