With the start of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs looming, the battle for the final transfer spots to the postseason witnessed a major shakeup as Kevin Harvick vaulted himself into the Playoff picture by returning to Victory Lane after winning the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 7.
The 2014 Cup Series champion led the final 35 of 200-scheduled laps as he managed to pull away during a 35-lap dash to the finish and beat pole-sitter Bubba Wallace by less than three seconds to snap a 65-race winless drought and capture his first elusive NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2022 season in the Irish Hills. The victory was one that placed Harvick’s name above top-16 cutline to make the Playoffs.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Bubba Wallace achieved the first Cup Series pole position for himself and for 23XI Racing after posting a pole-winning lap at 190.703 mph in 37.755 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Christopher Bell, who posted his best lap at 189.898 mph in 37.915 seconds.
When the green flag waved and the race started following a one-hour delay due to rain, Wallace received a push from Joey Logano to retain the lead through the first two turns while Logano, Bell and Kyle Busch engaged in a three-wide battle for the runner-up spot. Soon after Logano grabbed the runner-up spot, Tyler Reddick bolted his way in a three-wide move between Bell and Kyle Busch in a bid for third place while Wallace proceeded to lead the first lap.
During the second lap, Wallace maintained the top spot ahead of Logano while Kyle Busch engaged in a tight, side-by-side battle with Reddick for third place in front of Bell and Kyle Larson.
Through the first five laps, Wallace was leading by four-tenths over Logano followed by Reddick, Kyle Busch and Bell while Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Michael McDowell and rookie Austin Cindric were in the top 10. Behind, Kevin Harvick was in 11th ahead of Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Ty Gibbs and Ross Chastain while Noah Gragson, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe and Chris Buescher occupied the top 20.
At the Lap 10 mark, Wallace continued to lead by more than a second over Reddick. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, Larson and Bell were scored in the top five while Logano, who reported debris on the front grille of his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, had fallen back in sixth ahead of Erik Jones.
When the event reached Lap 20, the first caution flew due to NASCAR establishing a competition caution amid the rain-delayed start. At the time of caution, Wallace retained the lead by more than a second over Reddick while Kyle Busch, Bell and Larson were in the top five. By then, Logano had fallen back to ninth while being overtaken by Erik Jones, Truex and Hamlin. During the competition caution period, some led by Wallace pitted while the rest led by Bell remained on the track.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 24, Bell and Erik Jones, both of whom did not pit during the competition caution, dueled for the lead until Bell managed to pull ahead on the outside lane. Shortly after, however, the caution flew when JJ Yeley, who appeared to fall off the pace through the first two turns as the field fanned out to avoid Yeley, got hit by Michael McDowell, which triggered a multi-car wreck that involved Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., rookies Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, Ty Gibbs, Kyle Busch and Austin Cindric, who pounded the outside wall head-on and demolished the front nose of his No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang. All competitors involved, including Cindric, emerged uninjured, though big names that included Cindric, Kyle Busch, Almirola and Stenhouse were eliminated from further competition.
Following an extensive caution period, the race proceeded under green on Lap 32. At the start, Bell retained the lead on the outside lane while teammate Denny Hamlin made his way into the runner-up spot over Erik Jones as the field behind fanned out to multiple lanes.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Bell captured his second stage victory of the 2022 season. Teammate Hamlin trailed in the runner-up spot followed by Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr., Chris Buescher, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Chase Briscoe.
Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Bell pitted and amid a flurry of different strategies, Chastain exited with the lead followed by Larson, Blaney, Wallace and Harvick. Back on the track, however, Ty Gibbs and Corey LaJoie remained on the track
The second stage started on Lap 51 as Gibbs and Chastain occupied the front row. At the start, Chastain rocketed his No. 1 AdventHealth Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the lead on the inside lane. Behind, Gibbs retained the runner-up spot followed by LaJoie, Blaney and the field. Then through the frontstretch and as Blaney took over third place, Erik Jones made a bold four-wide move in a bid for fourth place over Harvick, Larson and LaJoie before he settled behind LaJoie and Larson through the first two turns as Wallace tried to work his way back to the front.
By Lap 60, Chastain was leading by three-tenths of a second over Larson followed by Gibbs, Bell and Blaney while Hamlin, Wallace, Gragson, Erik Jones and Harvick were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Truex was mired back in 11th ahead of Reddick, Byron, Buescher and Bowman while Logano, Elliott, LaJoie, Briscoe and Brad Keselowski were scored in the top 20.
At the Lap 75 mark, Chastain continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over Hamlin, who overtook teammate Bell on the frontstretch while Noah Gragson, who was making his ninth Cup career start, was scored in fourth place ahead of Larson. Gibbs was back in sixth ahead of Harvick, Wallace, Erik Jones and Truex.
Four laps later, Hamlin used the outside lane to muscle his No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry into the lead. In the process, teammate Bell navigated his No. 20 SiriusXM Toyota TRD Camry into the runner-up spot. By then, Wallace outlasted a four-car battle against Reddick, Erik Jones and Truex to move into eighth place.
A few laps later, Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs, who was substituting for the injured Kurt Busch for a third consecutive event, pitted under green. Cole Custer also pitted not long with a flat left-front tire.
Nearing the Lap 90 mark, Blaney pitted his No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang under green along with Harvick and Wallace. Byron would also pit his No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 along with Chastain as Hamlin continued to lead. During the pit stops, Chastain was assessed a drive-through penalty for an uncontrolled tire violation when two tires rolled out of his pit box.
Then just as Hamlin pitted along with Larson, Reddick, Truex, Logano, Bell, Elliott, the caution flew on Lap 97 when Cole Custer, who fell off the pace starting in the backstretch, had fire erupting out of the left front of his No. 41 Haas Ford Mustang. Despite the fire, Custer managed to nurse his car back to his pit stall, where he quickly emerged uninjured as his race came to an end.
During the caution period, some like Erik Jones, Buescher, Daniel Suarez, Briscoe, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Josh Bilicki, Truex, Larson, Byron and Cody Ware pitted while the rest led by Hamlin remained on the track.
With 15 laps remaining in the second stage, the race restated under green. At the start, Harvick and Hamlin dueled for the lead while Brad Keselowski settled in third ahead of Bell and Larson. Shortly after, Bell overtook Keselowski for third as the field fanned out through the frontstretch. By then, Reddick pitted under green as his No. 8 pit crew popped the hood of his No. 8 Chevrolet open to address a mechanical issue, an issue that would eliminate him from further competition.
Three laps later, the caution returned when Noah Gragson spun after he broke a toe link and slapped the outside wall in Turn 2 as he nursed his No. 16 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 back to pit road with extensive damage. Under caution, some led by Harvick and Bell pitted while the rest led by Hamlin remained on the track.
With the race restarting under green with seven laps remaining in the second stage, Hamlin managed to pull ahead with the lead as Suarez muscled his way into the runner-up spot over Keselowski and Larson as the field fanned out through the backstretch and back to the frontstretch. As the field continued to jostle for positions, Hamlin pulled away with the lead.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 120, Hamlin captured his third stage victory of the 2022 season. Suarez settled in second followed by Larson, Bell, Keselowski, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, Byron and Logano.
Under the stage break, some led by Hamlin pitted while the rest led by Suarez remained on the track. During the pit stops, Larson was penalized for speeding on pit road. In addition, Austin Hill, a full-time Xfinity Series competitor for Richard Childress Racing who was making his Cup Series debut, was penalized for having a crew member jump over the wall too soon.
With 74 laps remaining, the final stage commenced under green as Suarez and Bell occupied the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out through the first two turns, Suarez managed to fend off Bell to retain the lead while Chastain rallied from his uncontrolled tire violation that pinned him a lap behind to work his way back into third place ahead of Logano and Austin Dillon. Behind, Harvick overtook teammate Chase Briscoe for sixth while Hamlin started to close in while running in eighth place.
Nearing the final 60 laps of the event, the battle for the lead intensified between Suarez and Bell as both dueled dead even for the lead with Chastain closing in. Despite Bell’s intimidation, Suarez maintained the lead by a tenth of a second while Chastain remained in third and trailing by six-tenths of a second. Meanwhile, Logano was in fourth ahead of Harvick and Hamlin while Austin Dillon was in seventh ahead of Wallace, Briscoe and Gibbs.
Down to the final 50 laps of the event, the battle for the lead continued to intensify as Trackhouse Racing’s Suarez and Chastain battled for the lead with the former leading the latter. Behind, Hamlin overtook teammate Bell for third place as he continued to power his way to the front while Bubba Wallace, who overtook Logano for sixth place earlier, started to challenge Harvick for fifth, which he succeeded during the following lap. Not long after, Austin Dillon and Briscoe pitted under green.
Then with 45 laps remaining, the cycle of green flag pit stops slowly commenced as Buescher pitted. During the following lap, teammates Suarez and Chastain pitted together, with Chastain managing to exit ahead of Suarez, as Hamlin assumed the lead. Harvick would then pit during the following lap.
With 41 laps remaining, trouble ensued in Turn 4 when Chastain, who had just pitted for fresh tires and fuel but a lap behind, made contact with Bell as he sent Bell’s No. 20 Toyota into the outside wall in Turn 4 with Bell’s car suffering significant right-front damage. The incident was enough for NASCAR to display the caution.
Under caution, the majority of the field that had not yet pitted led by Hamlin and Wallace pitted as Hamlin exited pit road first ahead of Wallace, Larson, Bowman and Logano. Back on the track, however, Harvick and BJ McLeod remained on the track as Harvick, who pitted prior to the caution and remained on the lead lap, assumed the lead. Following the pit stops, Hamlin was penalized for having too many crew members over the wall when a crew member leaned over his pit box to catch a loose tire. In addition, Ty Gibbs was penalized for speeding on pit road.
Down to the final 35 laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start, Harvick received a push from Larson to retain the lead through the first turn. Despite being pressured by Wallace entering the backstretch, Harvick managed to pull away with the lead while Wallace and Larson dueled for second. Then in Turn 1, Logano, who joined the battle ensuing between Larson and Wallace in Turn 4, washed up the track and forced Wallace wide, which also affected Larson as his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 slid outside of the top 10 and back in ninth while Logano and Wallace battled for the runner-up spot.
With 30 laps remaining, Harvick was leading by more than a second over Logano while Wallace was being pressured by Blaney for third place. Erik Jones was in fifth followed by Bowman, Truex, Elliott, Larson and Hamlin.
Ten laps later, Harvick extended his advantage to more than three seconds over Logano, who had Wallace pressuring him for the runner-up spot, while Blaney and Erik Jones remained in the top five. Meanwhile, Hamlin, who was trying to carve his way back to the front, challenged Larson for eighth place. In addition, Erik Jones was being pressured by Truex for fifth place while Bowman started to close in.
Another two laps later, Wallace dueled and overtook Logano for the runner-up spot as he began his pursuit on Harvick for the lead. Meanwhile, Blaney started to pressure teammate Logano for third place while Hamlin rocketed his way to sixth behind Erik Jones.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang continued to lead by more than four seconds over Wallace’s No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota TRD Camry while his team owner Hamlin battled Logano for third place in front of Blaney.
With five laps remaining, Harvick stabilized his advantage to nearly four seconds over Wallace. By then, Suarez limped his No. 99 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to pit road after he cut a left-front tire and limped around the speedway for a full lap. Despite the late incident, the race proceeded under green.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Harvick remained as the leader by less than four seconds over Wallace. With Wallace unable to narrow the deficit in a single lap, Harvick cruised his way around the two-mile speedway circuit for a final time and cycled his way back to the frontstretch to claim his first checkered flag in two years.
In addition to snapping a 65-race winless drought, Harvick achieved his sixth victory at Michigan, the second victory of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing and his 59th career win in NASCAR’s premier series. In addition, he became the 15th different competitor to win this season and be guaranteed a spot to the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs after coming into the event trailing the cutline by 96 points.
“Just good timing, for sure,” Harvick said on USA Network. “We’ve had several good runs the last few weeks. Loudon, Pocono, where the car ran good and just didn’t have everything work out. Just really proud of everybody on our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang. They’ve been digging along all year long, trying to make these Mustangs run faster and they haven’t been great this year. Our guys have done a good job in trying to take what we have, maximize it and do the things that we need to do. Really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
“Everybody who doubted us doesn’t know us,” Harvick added. “They obviously know that we thrive in these types of situations. A lot of things went our way today, which we haven’t had, all year long, have things go our way and things fall our way. There at the end, we pitted, didn’t go a lap down, the caution came out, got control of the race. That’s the thing I struggled with the most today was traffic, the restarts and just having to make up ground. Once I got clear of traffic, [the car] was hunting. It’s been a while. Coming to Michigan, this has been a great place for us. Just gotta thank all the fans. They’ve stuck with us through this little dry spell, so hopefully, we can back to Victory lane again soon.”
Wallace, who started on pole position and came into this weekend in a “must-win” scenario to draw himself into the Playoff picture, claimed the runner-up spot for the second time this season and for his fourth consecutive top-10 result in recent weeks after leading the first 22 laps. The result, however, kept Wallace in 20th place in the regular-season standings as he trails the top-16 cutline by 235 points.
“[I’m] Replaying everything I could have done,” Wallace, who fought tears of disappointment, said. “[I] Should have taken the top on the restart. Thought I could hang with [Harvick] and just got to racing [Larson] and [Logano]. [Logano] did a great job of getting another Ford contract by helping another Ford win. All in all, an incredible weekend. Appreciate my team. Wish we could have gotten Toyota in victory lane. Wish we could have got McDonalds in victory lane again. [The car] was fast all weekend. I will wear this one on my heart for a while. I failed everybody…Hate it. Hate it for our team. Sucks. It was a hell of a job for our team. There were a lot of positives from this weekend, but I’m a person that looks more at the negatives and I need to change that. I want to win so bad and this was the best opportunity.”
Hamlin rallied from his late pit road miscue to finish in third place while Logano and Blaney finished in the top five. The top-three result, however, did little to ease Hamlin’s frustration in having a potential victory slip out of his grasp following his late pit road penalty.
“It’s just frustrating,” Hamlin said. “We’ve had really fast cars throughout the year and Dover comes to mind and Pocono comes to mind and this race comes to mind and a bunch of others. Just cant get a [win] in the column. Hats off to Joe Gibbs Racing for giving me a car that fast and my team for setting it up really good. This is a piece of the puzzle you have to have to win races. Everyone has to do their job to the best of their ability and we just are lacking in one little section of our team that we just can’t hem up…I just hope that we make strides and keep getting better. It’s just frustrating when you have fast cars like our Toyotas did this weekend, there’s just absolutely no excuse for not winning. We’re the ones that have to look each other in the face on Monday and figure out how we just keep doing this. Hopefully we can make it constructive and continue to get better, but obviously it’s disappointing.”
Completing the top 10 on the track were Truex, Larson, Erik Jones, Bowman and Ty Gibbs.
There were 15 lead changes for 10 different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 36 laps.
With three regular season races remaining this season, Chase Elliott continues to lead the regular season standings by 119 points over Ryan Blaney, 137 over Ross Chastain, 138 over Martin Truex Jr. and 142 over Kyle Larson.
Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick, Kyle Larson, Chase Briscoe, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, rookie Austin Cindric and Kevin Harvick are currently guaranteed spots for the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs based on winning once throughout the regular-season stretch while Ryan Blaney occupies the 16th and final transfer spot to the Playoffs based on points. Martin Truex Jr. trails the top-16 cutline by 19 points, Erik Jones trails by 190 points, Aric Almirola trails by 210 points, Bubba Wallace trails by 235, Austin Dillon trails by 245, Justin Haley trails by 283, Chris Buescher trails by 286 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. trails by 333 points.
1. Kevin Harvick, 38 laps led
2. Bubba Wallace, 22 laps led
3. Denny Hamlin, 38 laps led, Stage 2 winner
4. Joey Logano
5. Ryan Blaney
6. Martin Truex Jr.
7. Kyle Larson
8. Erik Jones, five laps led
9. Alex Bowman
10. Ty Gibbs, two laps led
11. Chase Elliott
12. William Byron
13. Austin Dillon
14. Ty Dillon
15. Brad Keselowski
16. Chris Buescher, one lap led
17. Justin Haley
18. Austin Hill
19. Corey LaJoie
20. Chase Briscoe
21. Josh Bilicki
22. Cody Ware
23. BJ McLeod, one lap down, one lap led
24. Ross Chastain, two laps down, 29 laps led
25. Daniel Suarez, seven laps down, 33 laps led
26. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident, 31 laps led, Stage 1 winner
27. Todd Gilliland, 12 laps down
28. Michael McDowell, 13 laps down
29. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Engine
30. Noah Gragson – OUT, Accident
31. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident
32. Harrison Burton – OUT, Accident
33. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Accident
34. Aric Almirola – OUT, Accident
35. JJ Yeley – OUT, Accident
36. Kyle Busch – OUT, Accident
37. Austin Cindric – OUT, Accident
Next on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ second and final visit of the season to Richmond Raceway. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, August 14, at 3 p.m. ET on USA Network.