Kevin Harvick has been quiet but consistent. On Sunday, his consistency paid dividends as he clinched a spot in the Championship Round with a victory in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Ryan Blaney started on the pole, surrounded by Stewart-Haas Racing drivers as Clint Bowyer, Harvick, and Aric Almirola were second through fourth. After starting at the rear in last week’s race at Martinsville Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. found himself in the same predicament at Texas following an engine change. Daniel Suárez and Chris Buescher also went to the back for engine changes, while Matt DiBenedetto had a transmission change. Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Jimmie Johnson and William Byron failed inspection twice and thrice, respectively.
It did not take long for drama to ensue as Denny Hamlin, who started sixth, made contact with Bowyer, causing a tire rub on Hamlin’s #11 and forcing him to pit. Upon returning to the race, he had fallen to last, though he returned to pit road again for further repairs. Bowyer also pitted to repair damage.
Blaney continued to lead until the competition caution on lap 30. Harvick took the lead after his stop, while Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell, and Darrell Wallace Jr. received penalties for speeding (Busch, McMurray, Keselowski, McDowell) and pitting outside his box (Wallace).
The race resumed on lap 37 as Harvick led Kurt Busch. Harvick began to build a strong lead over the field. Late in the stage, Hamlin pitted once more for additional service as Harvick scored the stage win. Busch, Erik Jones, Blaney, Truex, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Chase Elliott, and Almirola received stage points with their top tens.
Stage #2 began on lap 92, lasting just five laps before Johnson and Byron tangled in turn three, the latter hitting the former’s rear bumper and spinning. After a brief caution period, the green flag waved on lap 100 with Harvick and Logano battling for the lead.
By lap 107, seven of the eight playoff drivers were in the top ten, Bowyer being the lone exception after his incident with Hamlin. On lap 125, various drivers began pitting under green, with Harvick doing so shortly after to surrender the lead to Logano before he did so on lap 150. Kyle Busch suffered a vibration and had to pit twice. Bowyer was penalised for having men over the wall too soon.
After the pit cycle was completed, Harvick was back in first and drove off to win the stage. Behind him were Blaney, Truex, Keselowski, Logano, Almirola, Jones, Kurt Busch, Suárez, and Elliott. Between stages, Harvick took four tires as the Team Penske duo of Logano and Keselowski changed two to occupy the front row.
Stage #3 commenced on lap 177 as Logano quickly dropped back and Blaney started chasing down his Penske team-mate Keselowski. Kyle Busch pitted on lap 210, plummeting him to twenty-fifth and two laps down.
On lap 224, Suárez cut his right-front tire and hit the wall, bringing out the caution. The race resumed on lap 230 with Logano and Blaney on the front row, though Harvick eventually moved up to second. Truex pitted on lap 246 from seventh, but was penalised for passing through too many pit boxes. Keselowski also went to pit road when he began experiencing a vibration in his #2 Ford.
Harvick passed Logano for first on lap 254. Green flag stops started on lap 276, with Harvick pitting four laps later and relinquishing first to Johnson. On lap 296, David Starr hit the wall to produce a yellow flag.
Lap 302 saw the next restart with Harvick and Blaney in the top two. After three laps, Matt DiBenedetto wrecked. Another green flag waved on lap 310, this time with Blaney successfully clearing Harvick for first. However, Harvick fought back to reclaim the lead on lap 317, and with the blessing of clean air began to separate himself from the pack.
With three laps remaining, Joey Gase spun to force overtime. Harvick proved to be too dominant for Blaney as he stormed off once again to score his eighth win of 2018. Logano finished third, followed by Jones, Larson, Elliott, Kurt Busch, Almirola, and Truex. Kyle Busch (seventeenth) and Bowyer (twenty-sixth) were the only playoff drivers to not finish in the top ten.
To celebrate the win, Harvick took a selfie with a fan, Joel Cram III.
“Absolute amazing night @TXMotorSpeedway,” Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers tweeted. “We’ve had really fast cars, but we finally executed all race long and put ourselves in position for a shot at the end.. Big thanks to everyone on the 4 team and everyone @StewartHaasRcng and @roushyates [Engines]”.
For SHR, Cole Custer‘s win on Saturday in the Xfinity Series also locks him into his respective series’ Championship Round.
Team owner Tony Stewart tweeted, “What a winning weekend! [Donny Schatz] at the dirt track, @ColeCuster in Xfinity and @KevinHarvick in the Cup Series. We’re gonna have a champagne shortage at this rate. So proud of everyone.”
Next week, the Cup Series closes out the Round of 8 with the Can-Am 500 at the newly-redesigned ISM Raceway. Matt Kenseth is the defending winner.