Michigan International Speedway has become Kevin Harvick‘s playground. The NASCAR Cup Series points held off Denny Hamlin to win Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 and secure a sweep of the weekend’s Cup races.
The top twenty from Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 was inverted to determine Sunday’s starting grid, which placed winner Harvick in the middle of the field.
Twentieth-placed Chris Buescher would have started on the pole, but went to a backup car and started at the rear instead. Twelve other drivers were also sent to the back: Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemechek, and Cole Custer switched to backup cars; Brennan Poole changed an engine; Josh Bilicki replaced Joey Gase in the #7 Tommy Baldwin Racing car; Preece, Reed Sorenson, and Daniel Suárez failed pre-race inspection twice.
Stages #1 and 2
With Buescher being relegated to the back, Clint Bowyer and William Byron led the field to the green flag. Meanwhile, Austin Dillon reported to pit road to serve a pass-through penalty for unapproved adjustments on pit road.
In the midfield, Harvick quickly moved through and cracked the top ten.
Like on Saturday, the first two stages were caution free excluding the breaks. Unlike on Saturday, there was no competition caution for Sunday’s race, meaning the first 86 laps ran green outside of the pause between stages.
By the end of Stage #1, Bowyer had led all 40 laps. Comprising the top ten were Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Harvick, Kurt Busch, and Joey Logano.
Harvick took the lead to begin the second stage after giving Kyle Busch a strong push ahead and making the pass for the top himself. He would dominate the segment, including leading by over four seconds on second-placed Keselowski, en route to the stage win.
Busch, Bell, Bowyer, Hamlin, Jones, Almirola, Logano, and Blaney also scored stage points. No Chevrolet finished in the top ten.
The third stage opened with Harvick battling Hamlin and the Team Penske drivers Keselowski and Blaney for first. Eventually, the Penske duo pulled ahead.
On lap 97, Keselowski was on Blaney’s inside when the former’s car drifted up the track exiting turn two, leading to contact that sent the team-mates into the wall. Bowyer and Alex Bowman also suffered damage during the wreck when they collided with one another, forcing the former to pit.
Keselowski took responsibility for the wreck, saying in an NBCSN interview that he “just lost it” and “overestimated the grip.”
“Just unfortunate for the whole Penske organisation,” Blaney said in his interview. “We had fast cars, battling for the lead, stinks that happened.”
The race resumed on lap 101 with another Hamlin vs. Harvick duel, one that the latter won. Four laps later, Bell spun after a tyre went down.
A pair of Stewart-Haas Racing drivers in Almirola (stayed out, restarted on outside) and Harvick led the grid to the restart on lap 110. Almirola, seeking his first win of the season, briefly traded the lead with his team-mate before finding himself giving chase with 40 laps to go.
On lap 136, Bowman’s right-rear tyre went down and came off on the track for the fifth caution of the race. The yellow was a much-needed break for Almirola, who had been reporting front tyre wear from his attempts to close the gap on Harvick. The other leaders chose to stay out.
A restart came with 15 laps to go, one that saw Harvick take off and a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in tow (Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch).
Hamlin pursued Harvick in a battle between the two most successful drivers of the season; both had split the victories in the Cup Series’ previous doubleheader at Pocono Raceway in June. Despite having momentum exiting turn four, he could not catch Harvick as he recorded his sixth victory of the year.
He is the first driver to win back-to-back Cup races in consecutive days since Richard Petty at Albany-Saratoga and Islip Speedways on 14–15 July 1971; Xfinity Series driver Austin Cindric accomplished a similar feat at Kentucky Speedway in July. The victory also allowed him to pass Lee Petty and tie Rusty Wallace for the tenth-most wins in Cup history with 55.
“It (battling with Hamlin) was a big challenge ,” Harvick began in Victory Lane. “Our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang got really tight there in (turns) three and four. I can run really good through one and two still, but I was just tight on that other end all day.
“I just got to thank all my guys. They did a great job all weekend on pit road. Great pit calls.”