Kevin Harvick continues to dominate the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and he’s doing it with company by his side. The 2014 champion’s successful year marched on as he extended his career-best six wins to a seventh as he scored the win in the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Denny Hamlin started on the pole alongside Kyle Busch, while team-mate Erik Jones was fourth. At the rear of the field was the fourth JGR car of Daniel Suárez, who did not set a qualifying time after hitting the wall during his run.
During pace laps, Joey Logano entered pit road to change a left front shock. After ten laps with Hamlin leading the way, Jones spun in turn four after reporting signs of a vibration. The restart took place on lap 14, but after a lap, William Byron got loose and collided with Martin Truex Jr., spinning the two. Both drivers returned to the race for the ensuing lap 20 green flag as Busch led the field following a strong push from behind by Alex Bowman. By this point, Suárez had cracked the top twenty from his fortieth-place start.
The competition caution was waved on lap 25, during which Busch beat Harvick off pit road. The two remained the leaders for the green flag on lap 29; Busch led a lap before Harvick took the lead. Six laps later, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott pitted for loose left-front and right-rear tires, respectively. At the front, Harvick scored his eleventh stage win of 2018 ahead of Busch, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Truex, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, and Bowman.
At the stage interlude, Jimmie Johnson decided to change just two tires, rocketing him up by 15 spots and into the lead. He remained in the position as Stage #2 began on lap 67. His lead did not last long as Kyle Busch quickly passed him for the spot. On lap 74, Newman spun in turn two to bring out the caution, which allowed Johnson to take back first when he stayed out and Busch pitted.
Jones’ woes persisted during the following green flag action when he bumped into Blaney on lap 83 and spun in turn two. Johnson pitted to relinquish the lead to Truex. By lap 93, the top three consisted of the dominant trio of Truex, Harvick, and Busch. On lap 109, Harvick and Busch passed Truex for the lead; Truex had been operating on a conservative fuel strategy as the end of Stage #2 neared. With two laps left in the stage, Truex ran out of fuel as he prepared to pit, but pit road was closed, resulting in a penalty; an uncontrolled tire exacerbated the matter for the #78, dropping him a lap down. Meanwhile, Harvick was two-for-two in stage wins. Behind him were Busch, Blaney, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Logano, Clint Bowyer, Almirola, Keselowski, and Larson.
Stage #3 commenced on lap 127 with Harvick in the lead as Blaney gave him a solid push on the outside line. On lap 132, Ty Dillon hit the wall after running over a battery to produce a caution and place Truex back on the lead lap courtesy of the free pass. Another restart took place on lap 141 as Harvick continued to lead, but Austin Dillon and Keselowski were tailing him.
With 30 laps remaining in the race, many teams began preparing to make green flag pit stops as Bowman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were the first to do so. Harvick pitted on lap 171, surrendering the lead to Dillon until he did the same four laps later, cycling first to Logano. By lap 189, Harvick was back on top ahead of Dillon, who was too far away to mount a charge. On the final lap, Dillon’s chances officially disappeared when he suffered a flat tire, enabling Harvick to score his seventh win of the year. Keselowski took second and Busch finished third, while Dillon had to settle for fourth. Blaney finished fifth, followed by Kurt Busch, Almirola, Hamlin, Elliott, and Logano.
In addition to being Harvick’s career-high seventh win of the season, it is his third race of 2018 in which he won all three stages (Las Vegas and Dover being the first two). During victory celebrations, son Keelan arrived on the track to accept the checkered flag and rode in the #4 car.
“We’ve had just a great summer,” Harvick stated in an interview with NBCSN. “He’s been with me the last three weeks. He told me before the race, he said, ‘Dad, if you win, I want to go out on the track and get the checkered flag.’ I said, ‘Well, you can go get the checkered flag, but you gotta ride around with me on the victory lap.’ Pretty awesome to be a part of NASCAR, to be able to bring the kids to the race track, and bring the kids to work and experience these types of things with him is just a dream come true.”
Harvick’s chief Rodney Childers tweeted: “Well,, I was good until I saw @KevinHarvick put Keelan in the car.. He told me before the race that’s what he was going to do after the race.. So blessed to be part of such a great race team and so many good people around me that makes this all happen..”
Next Saturday, the Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Kyle Busch is the defending winner.