What championship? Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs laugh it up in Miami

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Their drivers will be 100% serious as they battle for the NASCAR Cup title Sunday, but on Friday Joe Gibbs and Tony Stewart injected quite a bit of levity into Championship Weekend.

Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, and Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, met with the media and matched each other for quips and one-liner banter that produced a great deal of laughter.

They were so good that they could probably turn Friday’s session into a popular sitcom, like NASCAR’s version of the Odd Couple.

Here are some of the highlights:

* Stewart started the press conference feeling a bit, well, underdressed. While he had a SHR team polo shirt, Gibbs was nattily attired in an expensive suit.

“Well, this is how you dress when you have one car in the championship, this is how you dress when you have three,” Stewart said, pointing first at himself and then Gibbs. “I walked in, I’m like, are you going to court today? Oh, wait a minute, he’s got three cars in, this is the way you’ve got to dress. You’ve got to step it up.

To that, Gibbs quipped his reply, This is the way Tony dresses, this is the way Joe dresses. Go.”

* It didn’t take long for trash talking to start. And of course, Stewart – one of the best in the game when he was a driver – couldn’t resist to try and get into Gibbs’ head.

“He’s nervous, I’ve got him all tore up,” Stewart said of Gibbs. “We were back there talking and he’s rubbing his forehead and everything else. He doesn’t know what to do.”

Gibbs apparently was anticipating that Stewart would start trash talking, so he injected his own reply.

“I had a flashback to my years with Tony,” Gibbs said with a smile. He demurred and didn’t elaborate further.

* Stewart and Gibbs obviously both touted the fortunes of their respective drivers and teams that are battling for the championship, but Stewart had an interesting analogy, going from momentum to poker to a bullet and gun.

“I’m proud of our group,” Stewart said. “I feel like we didn’t get off to the start that we were looking for, but as the season has come on, I feel like we’ve gained momentum and keep gaining momentum. We’re here, and that was the goal all along was to at least have one car here. I feel like it’s kind of like poker. It’s a chip and a chair. We’ve got one bullet in the gun, and we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”

* Gibbs had a little nudge at Stewart when the former was asked about his legendary work ethic, both as a NASCAR team owner and his previous tenure as a three-time Super Bowl winning coach.

“I take it you didn’t talk to Tony, he thought I loafed all the time,” Gibbs laughed.

After that, Gibbs talked about his family, particularly his grandchildren, who he has tried to steer in the direction of coaching football rather than being in NASCAR like their fathers, including Gibbs’ sons Coy and the late J.D.

“Now it’s Coy has a big part of this, and we know J.D. spent his entire occupational life, and I’ve got grandkids coming,” Gibbs said. “And honestly, I’ve tried to talk a couple of them into do you want to coach and things like that. I swear, each and every one of them said to me, no, I want to do what Dad did.”

* Normally a stoic and gentle human being, Gibbs can lose his temper at times. He was asked about chewing out Denny Hamlin for wrecking during a practice session for the Daytona 500, telling Hamlin “You’re paying for that car!” only to have Hamlin come back and win the race.

That made Gibbs reconsider the punishment he imparted upon his driver.

“I was upset with what happened and then he turned around and won that next race, and I said, ‘Okay, you can forget that,’” Gibbs said. “I don’t think I’ve ever penalized anybody for anything, but I threaten them every now and then.”

Ehhhh – busted, according to Stewart.

That’s not true,” Stewart said to laughs.

Not missing a beat, Gibbs responded, prompting this exchange between the pair:

Gibbs: “On second thought, there is a driver I’ve worked with where we …”

Stewart: “I had to pay for two TVs in the lounge of the trailer that I broke.”

Gibbs: “I used to try and get to the hauler as fast as I could if he had a bad night because he was going to tear up the inside of the hauler.”

Stewart: “I feel like I got pretty good odds out of it because I think I broke five TVs where he said if you break another one this one is coming out of your paycheck.”

Gibbs: “I got him at Richmond one time, and I beat him in there real quick, and you were ticked off and he’s in there all flustered and everything, and he goes like, they usually turn to me after tearing stuff up, he goes, ‘I’m going to go out there and kick his’ — and I went like this, I started to go, ‘Okay, I think you should. Hoping somebody will put a lump on you.”

Stewart: See, as a good owner you should have thought of that first and I would have saved the trailer.”

A few moments later, Stewart sheepishly admitted “honestly, I can’t say that he did me, either,” meaning Gibbs actually never did tongue lash Stewart.

* Stewart then complimented Gibbs for his way of how he handles his drivers and how he has a knack of calming them down – even Stewart.

“A tongue lashing is because you’re upset about something,” Stewart said. “But when you take a step back and you say, what are you ultimately trying to accomplish out of it, what’s the right way to go about it with this particular individual. So I think it’s — I learned a lot from this guy in the years I was there.”

But Smoke couldn’t avoid getting in another zinger:

“I’ve said it a million times, if I didn’t work for him (Gibbs), I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. I wouldn’t be the things that I’m doing now. I wouldn’t be in debt like I am now. And I blame all of it on Joe.”

To his credit, though, Stewart wasn’t afraid to take a shot at himself.

When asked about the difference between being a driver and a team owner, Stewart spoke about his own maturing.

“Like Joe said, with time guys grow up,” Stewart said. “It took me a lot longer. I’m not even sure I’m there yet. I’m still a work in progress.”

* One of Gibbs’s favorite memories – and nightmares at the same time – was chasing Stewart to sign him originally back in the late 1990s.

Stewart had an attorney to help him, but pretty much negotiated his first deal with Gibbs by himself. Gibbs wanted to sign Stewart so badly that he was willing to concede to some special addendums to the contract, including allowing Stewart to compete in a number of dirt late model races.

Just when the deal was finalized, Stewart got a bit mischievous. He had one more demand.

“Cary Agajanian was my attorney at the time, and I looked at Cary, I said, ‘Do you see anything that stands out that we need to look at?’ He goes, ‘No, I’m happy. Are you happy?’ I go, I’m happy. We walk back in, and Joe goes, ‘So, what do you think? I said, Well, everything is good except for one thing, and Cary looked at me and Joe looked at me funny.

“I said, I want to drive the Top Fuel car at the (NHRA) U.S. Nationals next year, too. And immediately (Gibbs’) head started spinning off.  It looked like a horror movie.

“I let him go for about five seconds and Cary is literally kicking my leg under the table like what in the hell are you doing. And then I told him, I’m just messing with you, we’re good, we’re ready to do this.”

But Gibbs retaliated: Stewart was laid up at his parents’ home in Indiana after a bad wreck in an IndyCar race in Las Vegas.

“My buddies had been calling,” Stewart said. “I’d been really depressed because if you live with your mom and stepdad for a month, you’ll be depressed. But my buddies had been calling all day and it was AJ Foyt and then it was Mario Andretti and then it was Steve Kinser and this and that. None of them were (actually calling); it was all my buddies saying who they were.

“So my mom answers the phone. It’s 10:00 at night, and my mom goes, ‘It’s Joe Gibbs.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, great. Sure, here we go, which one of these assholes is it now. So they hand the phone over to me, and I’m like, ‘Hey, Joe, how the hell are you?’ He goes, Tony? And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, it really is Joe Gibbs.’

“That’s the way our whole relationship literally was from the first phone call on because I obviously had to explain to him why I was being an idiot other than I was heavily medicated. Had to explain to him why I was being the way I was. That’s the way we’ve always been with each other. We’ve always had fun with each other. But I think as much as we’ve had fun, we’ve always had a high level of respect for each other, as well.”

Gibbs wasn’t going to let Stewart have the last word – or laugh.

“I couldn’t find him lots of times, I would call the girlfriend,” Gibbs said of Stewart’s girlfriend at the time. “I would call the girlfriend, and she would tell me where he was and everything. So about the third time I called the girlfriend, she goes, ‘That no-good rotten — don’t you ever call this house again.’ I went, ‘Well, that was done.”

To which Stewart quipped, “We were ready to hold auditions again (for a new girlfriend). It was time. What can I say?”

And then they got back to talk to racing. But that wasn’t nearly as funny as the rest of the press conference, for sure.

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Ryan: How NASCAR needs to wave the yellow on intentional cautions

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There have been two cautions in two races that already have altered the course of the 2019 playoffs. There almost certainly will be another that will definitively determine the 2019 title.

There is every year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the yellow flag has fallen within the final run in all five editions of the championship round at the 1.5-mile track.

Sometimes, yellows have occurred much later and more frequently, and in every instance, their timing has played a critical role in crowning the champion.

That’s a portentous backdrop for the disconcerting trend of seemingly intentional spins that have caused game-changing caution flags the past two weeks.

The hope must be that there won’t be a black cloud hanging over Homestead after the season finale’s inevitably critical yellow arrives.

NASCAR has yet to address drivers about intentional spins (though officials have hinted they will in Sunday’s prerace meeting), but there is a much bigger discussion that needs to occur beyond just “stop looping your cars on purpose.”

Essentially, NASCAR needs to establish a better foundation of when cautions are being called and whether drivers will be allowed dispensation in legitimate cases (i.e., spinning with a flat tire) to help ensure that they are. The 2019 inconsistency in the tower on yellows that has been evident in races such as the Roval is factoring into this debate, too.

In the Oct. 27 race at Martinsville Speedway, there were three yellows for debris in the first 350 laps. But the trigger from the tower was much slower in the final 50 laps when the tires began coming apart on the Fords of Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano. In both instances, the yellow flew after each car spun.

“There were guys early in the race at Martinsville that scraped the wall, and ‘Boom!’ yellow’s out,” Kyle Petty said on this week’s NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “NASCAR was quick with the caution. Then Bowyer has trouble, and Joey has his issue. Where’s the caution? You threw one an hour ago for a lesser incident. If they’d thrown it, you wouldn’t have had a car spin. Joey and Clint felt like because NASCAR didn’t give them their caution whether it was deserved or perceived, they felt like, ‘We’ll get our own caution.’”

It was pivotal in the case of Logano, who stayed on the lead lap and finished eighth rather than make a green-flag stop that probably would have cost him at least 15 points (and barely above the cut line heading into Phoenix).

Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway was nearly as important. Bubba Wallace’s spin to cause a yellow fundamentally changed the complexion of Kyle Larson’s race (along with several others) and helped put the Chip Ganassi Racing playoff driver in a deeper points hole.

If the spins were purposeful, it’s hard to find serious fault with what any of the drivers did. In each case, the yellow was primarily for their own benefit. It fell well short of the sort of the race manipulation that has required NASCAR to issue draconian penalties.

Both Petty and Tony Stewart also were right this week to suggest that NASCAR doesn’t need to monitor every spin to judge whether it was potentially nefarious. With the number of impenetrable ground rules applied weekly, there needs to be as much deregulation in Cup as humanly possible.

But there also needs to be a more clear and general understanding of what constitutes a caution flag and what drivers might be permitted in causing one.

If an agreed-upon standard becomes, “we’ll let you spin your car after you’ve sustained a flat tire under normal circumstances,” that is better than the vague alternative of no standard at all.

Because if someone blatantly causes a yellow at Homestead, it’ll get a lot more complicated.

Through information supplied by NACSAR since last year via the electronic control unit in Cup cars’ fuel injection systems, teams have access to more data than ever – steering, brake, throttle traces and RPMs.

That is strong evidence to build a case if a team feels it was wronged on a late caution flag (if Chip Ganassi Racing had wanted to challenge the No. 43’s spin at Texas, the facts likely were there), and it severely undermines the NASCAR contention that it’s difficult to judge intent.

It’s a lot easier when you can determine precisely when someone hit the accelerator or brake and flicked the wheel.

When the grand prize is at stake, and that information is available, “we can’t determine intent” will become as suspicious an explanation as a spin in question.


With the dissolution of Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, there is no greater successful crew chief-driver dichotomy than Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick.

Though there is much less creative tension in their working relationship than the Hendrick Motorsports duo that won seven championships, Childers and Harvick have a yin and yang that blends perfectly with their intensity to be ranked first anytime that cars are on track (be it for practice, qualifying or the race).

That was evidenced by wildly different ways that they got ready for Texas. Childers maniacally reviewed tape of the March 31 race, watching it for strategy clues Monday morning … and then rewatching it Tuesday afternoon (after a viewing of the March 10 race at ISM Raceway left him unsettled) and then again Sunday morning before the Texas race as he crammed “just like having to take a big exam.

“Places like here and Indy, you have to go back and pay attention to that stuff and what people do with two tires and no tires and track position and all that,” Childers said. “Obviously, you’ve just kind of got to have that in your head of what could happen, what can happen, and I probably drove (Harvick) crazy sending crazy messages about what other people did in (March).”

“He watches it so many times that I don’t have to watch it,” Harvick said with a smile.

Contrast that with how the driver prepped the day before the race – taking his wife and two kids to the Fort Worth Zoo. Harvick is always on call even with his family (he was checking his watch Saturday for instantaneous processing of hourly email and text updates from Childers), but he also has the ability (and approval from the No. 4 team) to compartmentalize his personal life.

That balance is why it works for the Stewart-Haas Racing duo.

“They expect me to come to the racetrack and be prepared,” Harvick said of his team after his 49th career victory. “And the thing about being prepared for me is to be as mentally focused as you can.  And my age and experience kind of comes into that. You’ve been to some of these racetracks so many times, and I feel like I know the characteristics of the car.

“But there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t send me a text, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this’ or one of the engineers will send me a text and say, ‘What do you think about this gear ratio.’ One of them is texting me at least once a day, if not multiple times a day, as to what’s going on and what’s happening. Those are those relationships that are constant and steady, and everybody believes in each other because that’s just how it works.

“It’s never a bad time to text me or it’s never a bad time to call me.  It’s never a bad time to ask me to do something. When they need something, I put down what I’m doing, and I try to figure out how we’re going to do it.  The priority are (family) and that race team, and the things that they need.  But I am a thorough believer that that circle of life has to be balanced for you to show up to this racetrack every single week, to be as focused as you need to be to process all of that information.”

When Harvick and Childers won the 2014 Cup championship, “I Believe That We Will Win” was their rallying cry (borrowed from the U.S. Men’s National Team in soccer). Texas revealed why the underpinnings of that motto still are working five years later.

“There’s a deep belief in each other that we can go out and be better than anybody on any given day,” Harvick said. “Most of the time we can talk ourselves into it even when we probably don’t really have a chance, we can talk ourselves into it.”


Harvick’s victory at Texas marked a calendar year since the last time that a Cup race winner had been hit with a major postrace infraction.

The de-facto nullification of his Nov. 4, 2018 victory at Texas was a big part of the impetus behind NASCAR’s overhaul of postrace penalties this season that limited inspection to being conducted solely at the track.

Though there have been disqualifications of winners in the truck and Xfinity Series, all 34 race wins in Cup have been untainted (though a couple of other finishers have been dinged).

It’s hardly an outcome anyone would have predicted in February on the heels of a 2018 season in which Harvick’s team was nailed twice after wins and stood out among a processional of cars deemed illegal at NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord.

Last year’s incessant midweek raft of negative headlines – culminating with Harvick losing his berth in the championship round (he regained it on points after Phoenix) – prompted the shift in policy this season, and it seemed destined to produce it least one earth-shattering disqualification.

As it turned out, Harvick was prescient in what he told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long before the season about teams and NASCAR getting on the same page about how inspection would be handled under the new parameters.

Those discussions apparently have worked.


The finicky nature of the traction compound at Texas might make some playoff drivers gun-shy about hopping on the sticky stuff at ISM Raceway, which is applying the substance for the first time.

There is a scientific process used in its application that produces estimated grip levels, but Texas underscored how tricky that can be as several drivers struggled to find the adhesive and found the wall instead.

Phoenix will be using the traction compound for the first time, and perhaps more importantly, it’ll be the first time the PJ1 is applied at a NASCAR-owned track without much supervision from the staff of Speedway Motorsports tracks owned by Bruton Smith. Michigan was the first NASCAR track to use PJ1 a couple of months ago, but it came with guidance from Speedway Motorsports vice president of operations Steve Swift.

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski all crashed after finding the limits of the traction compound’s grip at Texas, where the PJ1 didn’t seem to activate as well at other tracks. Though the intent is to provide another lane of racing at Phoenix, it’ll be unsurprising if drivers elect to tiptoe – at least in the first half of the race after Elliott, Keselowski and Hamlin were burned by testing it in the first 85 laps at Texas.

“Drivers will be asking, ‘Is it that big of a gain?’ and if not, you probably don’t need to go up there,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton said. “If not, you probably don’t need to need to go there. It’s there as an option, but you aren’t forced into it.”


John Hunter Nemechek will be making history together with his dad, Joe, in running all three series this weekend at ISM Raceway. That’s an impressive father-son accomplishment, but it’ll be hard to top what John Hunter did in first career Cup start.

The 22-year-old started 29th and finished 21st at Texas, outrunning Front Row Motorsports teammates Michael McDowell and David Ragan. He also finished ahead of many veterans such as Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace (and just behind Paul Menard and Chris Buescher).

Though the prognosis of No. 36 Ford driver Matt Tifft remains uncertain after a seizure, Nemechek’s debut in NASCAR’s premier series should provide Front Row with a measure of comfort.

Despite spending the full season in Xfinity cars that don’t ride nearly as low to the pavement as Cup and drive much differently, Nemechek still finished eight spots ahead of his father, who probably deserves credit for not only raising but also motivating the second-generation racer. “We’re a competitive family, and we love to push each other to the next level,” John Hunter said.

If he can post solid finishes for Front Row in the final two races of 2019, Nemechek’s driver stock should rise. Though he was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, he has posted five top 10s in the past six Xfinity races, and his seasonlong consistency deserves another look.

NASCAR executive: ‘Judgment call’ on whether a driver spins intentionally

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Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said ruling whether a driver spins intentionally to bring out a caution during a race is a “judgment call.”

O’Donnell’s comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” came a day after Kyle Larson accused Bubba Wallace of an intentional spin during green flag pit stops in Sunday’s playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Well it’s going be a judgment call, for sure,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s something you know as momentum builds or you see a trend and you’ve got to react, you do.

“We tend to trust the teams out there and the drivers maybe too much at times. But we’ll certainly take a look at that. Obviously, didn’t make a call during the race Sunday. If it’s something we’ve got to address, we’ll talk to the drivers and race teams over the week. If we need to address it, we will in the driver’s meeting ahead of Sunday’s race (at ISM Raceway) and make sure we’re staying on top of that.”

The spin by Wallace, which Richard Petty Motorsports said was a result of his left-rear tire going down, occurred in Turn 2 after Wallace appeared to save his No. 43 Chevy in an initial slide. The car then went into a half-spin on the apron, similar to Joey Logano’s spin last week at Martinsville Speedway, which was also questioned for potentially being intentional.

After Sunday’s race, a NASCAR spokesman told NBCSports.com that Wallace’s spin was reviewed, and officials determined it didn’t warrant a penalty.

Larson and other drivers had pitted just ahead of the yellow caused by Wallace’s spin and had to take a wavearound to get back on the lead lap.

Larson, who finished 12th, observed “Helen Keller could have seen” the spin was intentional.

“It’s B.S.,” Larson said. “I’ve done it. We’ve all done it in those positions, but until NASCAR steps in, and whether it’s a fine or a penalty with points or something, people are still going to do it.

Tony Stewart, co-owner of race winner Kevin Harvick‘s car, shared his thoughts on the situation on Sunday.

“I feel like NASCAR is backed in a corner on scenarios like this,” Stewart said. “There’s so many ball‑and‑strike calls that they’re put in the position of having to make, I think they’ve got to find a way to make it simpler to where it is what it is.

“Bubba wasn’t working for any team, any manufacturer.  He was trying to take care of himself in that scenario.  It could work for you one week. It could work against you the next week.  It’s just part of it.”

Stewart continued: “At what point do you sit there and say enough is enough?  At some point, we’ve got to somewhat adopt the old‑time tradition of ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ It’s just got to be simplified. They shouldn’t have to sit up there and babysit every single thing that everybody does all the time. There’s enough rules and regulations that they have to do to need to be in place, let alone the things that they shouldn’t have to be put in those positions.

“I mean, you can ask 10 different people, they’re going to give you 10 different answers on it.”

Kyle Busch to compete in Rolex 24 in 2020

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PLANO, Texas — Kyle Busch will compete in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, Toyota Racing announced Monday.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is scheduled for Jan. 25-26.

Busch will be one of the drivers for AIM Vasser Sullivan and drive the Lexus RC F GT3 car.

“I’d like to thank everyone at Lexus Motorsports and AIM Vasser Sullivan and Toyota for this opportunity,” Busch said. “To have the chance to run in such an iconic race as the Rolex 24 is certainly something I’ve thought about and wanted to do. My partnership with Toyota and the history we’ve had together has been incredible. I would love to continue that history and maybe get my Daytona Rolex to add to my trophy collection.”

This will mark Busch’s debut in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Rolex 24. He will compete in the GTD class.

“We’re thrilled to have a racer of Kyle’s caliber join AIM Vasser Sullivan to open our 2020 season at the Rolex 24 at Daytona,” said Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of the team. “Kyle has proved he can compete and win in many forms of motorsports and we look forward to having him drive the Lexus RC F GT3 at Daytona.”

Busch will participate in the 2020 Roar Before the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 3-5 to prepare for the race.

Busch follows several NASCAR drivers who have competed in the event, including Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and AJ Allmendinger, among others.

The only other time Busch has competed on Daytona’s road course was in 2009 when he co-drove a Lexus with Scott Speed for Chip Ganassi Racing and finished 10th in the Brumos Porsche 250, the night before the July Cup race there.

Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Cup champion, seeks to advance to the championship race in the Cup Series for the fifth consecutive year.

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).

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