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.
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.
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
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).