Kevin Harvick punched his Championship 4 ticket to Homestead-Miami Speedway after chasing down and passing Martin Truex Jr. in the waning laps to win the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Restarting with 46 laps to go, Truex took the lead from Denny Hamlin and set sail. But Harvick took second from Hamlin and, thanks to lap traffic, cut the gap down to under half a second with under 20 to go.
While clean air stalled Harvick’s advance for a few laps, another group of lapped cars allowed him to close up to Truex going into Turn 1, pull up alongside him exiting Turn 2 and pass him for the lead going into Turn 3.
He pulled away to score his 37th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in his 608th career start.
“First thing I want to do is thank all these fans in Texas. I’m happy to finally get to victory lane here (Texas Motor Speedway). It’s been a long time coming. I’m really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing and our Mobil 1 Ford, but damn it’s good to be in victory lane here at Texas! Just really want to thank all my guys. I knew I had a really good car and I knew I had to do something different. I started driving it into Turn 1 just a whole lot deeper. I saw the 42 (Kyle Larson) doing that early in the race. I was just afraid I didn’t have the brakes to continue to do that all day. I waited till the end and it was able to get on the outside of Martin. I got him loose as I brushed across the back, I think. Was able to get on the outside and my car was pretty good on the outside down there.”
Truex finished second and Hamlin rounded out the podium.
“I knew he (Harvick) was quicker – once he got around the 11 (Hamlin) I guess it was, he started coming really fast and that’s all I had,” Truex said. “Just struggled a little on the long run today, which was normally where we’re our best. He seemed to be better when he got out front – we were good when we got out front toward the middle of the race and we just got too loose in those long runs. I did all I could do on the inside, but we had the 6 (Trevor Bayne) and some other dummy racing side-by-side in front of us and I was way loose in traffic and I got loose going into one and Harvick jumped to my outside. One of those deals, I think we could have held them off on a clean race track, but the 6 car is in the damn way every week – that’s pretty normal.”
“Really had a solid car all day long,” Hamlin said. “We lost some track position there when a couple guys took two tires, we took four. Then we had a bad restart, and that kind of took us back in the pack 10th, 12th or so. 18 pitted long, tracked us a lap down, then that kind of hurt us a little bit. We just fought back to fourth, I think it was, drove back up to fourth, then it was an easy decision to take two tires there. It was the only way we were going to get out front and hopefully win the race. The 78 passed us on that one restart, then the two tires faded, couldn’t hold off the 4 there.”
Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.
“First run of the day was fun,” Kenseth said. “Everybody was on three-cycle scuffs and we were on stickers. We got to the end, we had a good car when we got to get up through there pretty quick, but just got tight on that last set of tires for some reason and then I would just – I’d always draw the outside lane on a restart and lose a couple spots. It’s just hard to overcome that. That was our worst run of the day and it was still pretty competitive, so it was nice to be competitive.”
“We had a pretty good car. Something happened on lap one and basically we started the race last and a lap-and-a-half down. That cost us a bunch of stage points, but we rallied with a solid effort to get back to fifth. I’m happy for that,” Keselowski said.
Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones rounded out the top-10.
Kurt Busch led the field to the green flag at 2:19 p.m., but didn’t lead the first lap — or a lap all day — because Hamlin powered by him on the outside exiting Turn 2 to lead the first lap. He led the first 46, before pulling to the high-side and allowing Larson to drive by in Turn 3 to take the lead.
Larson surrendered the lead for 10 laps during a cycle of green flag stops, before it cycled back to him. A few laps later, however, he got loose exiting Turn 2, which allowed Harvick to pull up and pass him to take the lead on Lap 69.
Harvick then went on to win the first stage on Lap 85.
Hamlin, who exited the pits under the first stage break with the race lead, led the field back to green on Lap 92. Harvick, who initially got a poor restart, powered off Turn 2 and drove past Hamlin down the backstretch to retake the lead. After caution flew for a two-car spin in Turn 2 on Lap 93, Harvick led the field back to green on Lap 99, only to lose the lead to Larson going into Turn 3.
Like the first cycle of green flag stops, Larson briefly lost the lead whilst pitting and regained it when it concluded. This time, however, it didn’t end with another driver passing him a few laps later. He kept the lead and drove on to win the second stage on Lap 170.
Kenseth, who was off-sequence from the leaders, led the field back to green on Lap 179. He lost it to Truex on the Lap 187 restart, that followed Landon Cassill’s spin in Turn 2 on Lap 180.
The ensuing cycle of green flag stops that started on Lap 225 was interrupted by a caution for Michael McDowell spinning in Turn 2. Kyle Busch, who was in the lead at the time, pitted and the lead cycled back to Truex.
Kenseth took back the lead on the Lap 239 restart, Truex took it back on the Lap 246 restart and Hamlin exited pit road under the Lap 270 caution with the race lead.
Larson’s wreck in Turn 1 brought out the eighth caution of the race and set up the run to the finish.
The first caution flew on Lap 85 for the end of the first stage. Caution flew for the second time for a two-car wreck in Turn 2 on Lap 93, involving Daniel Suarez and Kasey Kahne. Caution flew for the third time on Lap 170 for the conclusion of the second stage. The fourth caution flew when Cassill spun out in Turn 1 on Lap 180. McDowell’s spin in Turn 2 on Lap 234 brought out the fifth caution. Ray Black Jr. brought out the sixth and seventh caution’s for spins in Turn 2 (the latter collected Jeffrey Earnhardt). The final flew when Larson spun out and slammed the outside wall in Turn 1 with 51 to go.
NUTS & BOLTS
The race lasted three hours, 29 minutes and 52 seconds, at an average speed of 143.234 mph. There were 27 lead changes among 13 different drivers, and eight cautions for 40 laps.
Truex leaves with a 50-point lead over Kyle Busch. Hamlin, Blaney Elliott and Jimmie Johnson leave in the Round of 8 drop zone.