Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing roar to 1-2-3 finish at Texas

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There’s something about Texas Motor Speedway that has brought out the best in Kevin Harvick of late.

For the third consecutive fall playoff race at the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth, Harvick took the checkered flag in the middle playoff race of the Round of 8. He joins Martin Truex Jr. in advancing to the NASCAR Cup championship race two weeks from now in Miami.

Two other drivers will have to race their way either with a win or on points to round out Miami’s championship field of four in next week’s penultimate race at Phoenix.

MORE: Results, playoff standings after Cup playoff race at Texas

Harvick, who came into the day fifth in the points and below the cutline, started on the pole and led 119 laps to earn his fourth win of the season and assured he’ll race for the championship for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Harvick won the first championship under the current format in 2014.

“Texas has always been great for us and what a race track it has been for us the last few years,” Harvick told NBCSN. “There was a lot of work put into this race. We knew this was a good racetrack for us, felt like it fit that style of our cars and man, did it. It was a fast car.”

Harvick also led a huge Stewart-Haas Racing effort as teammates Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez finished second and third, respectively. Harvick earned his 49th career Cup win, tying him with SHR co-owner Tony Stewart for 14th on NASCAR’s all-time Cup wins list.

It wasn’t exactly easy for Harvick, though. He suffered what was essentially a double penalty while pitting on Lap 190. According to a NASCAR official, “Harvick was penalized for a combination of two rules. Since the dual service crew member is the only one who can stage wheels in a pit box, he must perform dual service. If he doesn’t perform two roles (they didn’t change tires on that stop), he can’t be considered dual service and can’t stage tires in the pit box.”

Harvick was sent to the back of the lead lap but was able to mount a strong comeback that led to his win.

Joey Logano finished fourth while Alex Bowman rounded out the top five.

On the flip side, two drivers in particular suffered issues that will force them to potentially have to drive the race of their careers next week in the final championship qualifying race at Phoenix if they hope to keep their title hopes alive.

Chase Elliott (solo crash nine laps into the race, finished 32nd) and Denny Hamlin (incurred front end damage after spinning onto infield grass on Lap 81, finished 28th) suffered incidents in Sunday’s race, leaving them in peril heading to Phoenix. At 78 points below the cutline and ranked last of the eight remaining playoff drivers, Elliott is in a must-win situation to make it to the championship race at Miami.

Hamlin, meanwhile, went from 24 points above the cut line coming into Sunday’s race, only to suffer a 44-point swing, dropping  to fifth place, 20 points below the cutoff line afterward.

“I just lost control, that’s all there was to it,” Hamlin told NBCSN about what happened to his car. “We did the best we could and we’ll try to go to Phoenix and try to win. The car and the effort will be there. There’s no doubt in my mind we can go there and win.”

In addition to Logano, who earned his first top five of this year’s playoffs, as well as Harvick, Elliott and Hamlin, here’s how the other remaining playoff drivers finished: Martin Truex Jr. (6th), Kyle Busch (7th), Ryan Blaney (8th), Kyle Larson (12th).

As for the overall playoff picture, Truex and Harvick are locked into Miami, Kyle Busch is 22 points above the cutline and Logano is fourth, 20 points ahead of the cutline. Ironically, these are the same four drivers that were in the top four in the standings heading to Phoenix last year.

Below the cutline are Hamlin (-20), Ryan Blaney (-23), Kyle Larson (-23) and Elliott (-78).

Stage 1 winner: Kevin Harvick

Stage 2 winner: Aric Almirola

MORE: Denny Hamlin brings out caution late in Stage 1 at Texas

MORE: Chase Elliott wrecks on Lap 9 at Texas

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Joey Logano earned his first top five of this season’s playoffs. … Alex Bowman (fifth) and Kurt Busch (ninth) were the only Chevy drivers to earn top-10 showings.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. both spun coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 53. Keselowski hit the outer wall and then Stenhouse (finished 40th) piled hard into the rear of Keselowski (39th), ending both their days. … Corey LaJoie was involved in two incidents in Stage 1, including slamming into the wall late in the stage in a single-car incident. LaJoie finished 38th in the 40-car field.

NOTABLE: There were six cautions in Stage 1, the most cautions in an opening stage in a race this season. … John Hunter Nemechek finished 21st in his first career Cup start (filled in for Matt Tifft). In addition, father Joe Nemechek finished 29th. … Jimmie Johnson came into the race having led a total of just 91 laps all season (the most being 60 at Texas in the spring race). He led 40 laps Sunday (equaling the number of laps he led all of the 2018 season), but ended up with a 34th-place finish, retiring shortly after a solo wreck on Lap 186.

WHAT’S NEXT: Sunday, Nov. 10, Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson to pursue $100K bounty in Truck Series

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The $100,000 bounty on Kyle Busch has its first contenders.

Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson each confirmed Thursday evening on Twitter that they’ll take a shot at the bounty placed by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis last week.

Elliott will compete in the March 14 Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the May 30 race at Kansas Speedway with GMS Racing. Larson will compete with GMS Racing in the March 20 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott will be sponsored by Hooters for the Atlanta race.

The declarations by the two drivers came the same day that Busch said he didn’t believe any full-time Cup Series drivers would go after the bounty.

Elliott has 12 career Truck Series starts. His last two, at Atlanta and Martinsville in 2017, came with GMS Racing. Elliott won the Martinsville race. Busch was not in that race.

“Once the word got out about the challenge, we were able to put this together with Mike Beam at GMS in just a couple of days,” Elliott said in a press release. “Atlanta is one of my favorite tracks, so I’m really looking forward to getting back into a GMS truck there with Hooters on the truck and make a run for a win.”

Larson has 13 career starts and his last three, including a win at Eldora and top five at Homestead in 2016, came with GMS Racing.

“When I heard about the $100,000 bounty I wanted in!” Larson said in a press release. “I’m thankful for GMS and Chevy giving me this opportunity, Homestead is one of my favorite tracks so looking for to the challenge!”

There’s a potential third bounty hunter waiting in the wings.

Not long after Larson’s announcement, Denny Hamlin, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, tweeted that he’s acquired the funding to field a ride. There’s just one hangup, and it’s Kyle Busch Motorsports:

The $100,000 bounty against Busch was proposed by Harvick and Lemonis, CEO of Gander RV & Outdoors, last week. It will go to any full-time Cup Series driver who beats Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year. Busch has won the last seven Truck Series races he’s entered.

If Elliott or no other Cup driver beats Busch in those four races, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

“We are blessed with this opportunity. To have an owner that is up for the challenge and a manufacturer that will support the extra effort necessary is really special,” said Mike Beam, President of GMS Racing, in a press release. “It’s great to have these two talented young men back behind the wheel for us and to have the extra attention on the Truck series is great.”

Kyle Busch: $100K Truck Series bounty is a losing proposition

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Kyle Busch doesn’t believe any full-time Cup Series driver will attempt to claim the $100,000 bounty placed on him last week by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis.

Harvick and Lemonis, the CEO of Truck Series sponsor Gander RV & Outdoors, said they’d award that bounty to any full-time Cup Series driver who is able to beat Busch in any of his four remaining Truck Series starts this year.

Busch, who has won the last seven Truck races he’s entered, sees the challenge as a losing investment, especially if someone attempted it in one of Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Toyotas.

Thursday on the Barstool Sports’ “Rubbin’ is Racing” podcast, Busch said it costs $140,000 to rent one of his Trucks for a race.

“Right off the bat (it’s a losing proposition),” Busch said. “It’s not going to happen. Nobody is going to pay the 140 grand to rent a truck, whether it’s from me or from somebody else. (Show co-host Clint) Bowyer didn’t tell you the fact he can’t even rent a truck from me because I’m a Toyota team and he drives for a Ford team. So he has to go find a Ford truck in order to drive. So there’s those complications that fit into all of this, too.”

Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, expressed his interest in the bounty, as well Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, who said he was “working on” a deal.

After his win last Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch’s four remaining Truck Series starts are:

March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway

May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

If no one beats Busch, the bounty will go to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Marty Snider hosts and is joined by Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Nate Ryan.

James Hinchliffe will call into the show to discuss his new role as an analyst for NBC’s coverage of IndyCar, Indy Lights, IMSA and NASCAR.

You can call into the show via 844-NASCAR-NBC or submit your questions/comments via Twitter using #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Auto Club Speedway’s old surface provides ‘moving target’ for drivers

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Auto Club Speedway has a lot of character.

It’s a character that comes from the 2-mile track’s racing surface being among the oldest on the NASCAR circuit.

The surface hasn’t been repaved since the track first opened in 1997. That’s the same year that the surface for Atlanta Motor Speedway was last resurfaced (a planned repave was put on hold indefinitely in 2017 after outcry from drivers).

In the 23 years since, races at the track in Fontana, California, have turned into producers of multi-groove spectacles (especially on restarts) that come at the cost of high levels of tire wear.

The aged surface provides a “moving target” to drivers throughout the race weekend, according to Tyler Reddick.

“During the start of the weekend, you have to watch for the seams since it’s so slick out there,” the rookie Cup driver said in a media release. “Normally, the Xfinity cars are the first ones on the track, so I’m normally very careful. Now that I’m in the Cup Series, it may be a little different. I think this weekend will be fairly similar to Las Vegas where we started out running wide open, and I’ll have to run like that until the handling starts to go away in our No. 8 I Am Second Chevrolet (and) you have to start lifting. Then it’ll be important to assess why the handling is changing and how to adjust our car correctly to battle that.”

Cup and Xfinity teams only visit Auto Club Speedway once a year and this will be the second year they’ll do so with the high downforce aero package.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones believes Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox) will be a “different race” from the one seen last year.

“Going into Fontana last year, no one really knew what we needed car-wise, balance-wise and this year we have a whole notebook to look back on to try to get better,” Jones, who finished 19th in last year’s race, said in a media release.

“I think there will be a lot more lifting, the cars will be faster. Everybody has just gotten their cars better and more efficient and faster on the straightaways and that makes for more lifting in the corners. It will probably be a little different race, but Fontana is always a good show.”

But that show depends on where a driver chooses to run around the track.

Racing along the top of the track compared to running in the bottom lane proves for “two completely different types of racing” according to defending race winner Kyle Busch.

“You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttering around the racetrack,” Busch said in a media release. “You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top.”

When it comes to how rough the track is, Matt DiBenedetto cites how bumpy Turns 3 and 4 are, but said in a media release that traversing the “back straightaway is like going over jumps.”

But just like with the old surface at Atlanta Motor Speedway, there are those who never want to see Auto Club’s surface actually improve.

“I did an appearance at Auto Club Speedway not too long ago and I told the track officials, ‘Whatever you do, don’t repave it!'” Austin Dillon said in a media release. “Or, wait to repave it until you can figure out how to make an asphalt that is very similar to what is on the track now.”

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