Kevin Harvick Goes Back to Back at the Brickyard

#4: Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Busch Light Patriotic

Kevin Harvick shows no signs of cooling off. Harvick took advantage of the misfortune of rival Denny Hamlin and held off Matt Kenseth to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  It was his second consecutive Indy win and his third overall at the historic track.

For most of the closing laps it looked like Hamlin would add a jewel to his crown. Hamlin was leading with 6 laps to go when he lost a right front tire while leading and crashed hard into the wall.  The tire failure was the same fate that befell several drivers Sunday including Hamlin’s teammate Erik Jones., who crashed early in the race and Kyle Busch who also had flat but was able to pit and continue.  Hamlin’s crew chief had warned him to take care of the tire after the final pit stop.

“They told me that he was really close on tire wear and our tire wear was good,” Harvick said. “They wanted us to push as hard as we could, and the pace picked up as it got cooler; you hate to see people have trouble.  I’m just glad he’s okay.”

Despite the hard crash, Hamlin, who won last Sunday at Pocono, was uninjured.

“We didn’t do what we needed to do and it didn’t work out for us today,” Hamlin said. “I had a fast car obviously and was stretching it out there but wasn’t pushing right front at all. It’s kind of roulette if you’re going to get one that will stay together or not and mine didn’t. You saw the end result. These big races — things don’t go my way all the time. We’re still going to go next week and try to win the next one. We’ll do all we can.”

Harvick led a race high 68 laps at times making some incredible moves including a three wide pass where he went nearly to the grass on the inside along the backstretch.

“I didn’t have any more room,” Harvick said.  “That was for sure, but it’s the Brickyard.”

He looked to be in control much of the event but a miscue during a round of green flag stops on lap 122 saw Hamlin pit from second, while Harvick missed the call and had to go around again.

When the stops cycled through Hamlin was in the lead, with Harvick close behind in second.  Hamlin was leading when his tire blew, and the cleanup forced the race into overtime.  Harvick was able to rocket to the lead on final restart and win by .743 of a second.

“This is what I grew up wanting to do as a kid, win at the Brickyard,” Harvick said. “To be able to come here and have won for the third time is something that I could have never dreamed of.”

With his second-place finish Kenseth, who came out of retirement to replace Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet, had his best finish since coming back, while Aric Almirola finished third for his fifth straight top five finish.  Brad Keselowski was fourth and Cole Custer finished fifth, his first top-five career finish.

The race started nearly an hour late due to lightning in the area and ran caution free until a scheduled competition caution at lap 12.  During the stops, a chain-reaction crash started near the back of the line of cars entering the pits when the No. 15 of Brennan Poole was pushed from behind and into the No. 48 which was being driven by Justin Allgaier in relief of Jimmie Johnson. The 48 was shoved into the side of Ryan Blaney’s Team Penske No. 12 and the contact squeezed Penske tire-changer Zach Price between the two cars. Allgaier was making his first Cup Series start since 2016 as a substitute for Johnson, who revealed a positive test for COVID-19 on Friday.

“Starting in the back trying to go forward, the No. 15 (Brennan Poole) actually got in the back of me,” Allgaier said. “I didn’t know if I got (hit) the gentleman on the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney’s crew member) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

The red flag was displayed, and the field was stopped on the backstretch as medical crews attended to Price. TV cameras showed Price give a thumbs-up as he was loaded into an ambulance, and initial reports were that he was being treated for a leg injury. He was later transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.

The cars of Corey LaJoie, Ryan Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were also among those involved. All were soon out of the race.   The red flag lasted 11 minutes, 17 seconds.

William Byron would take the lead with a two tire stop during a caution for the Jones crash on lap 763 he would go on to win Stage 1 but lose a right front tire himself on the restart and was done for the day.

From there Harvick would take control winning Stage 2 and only losing the lead to Hamlin late in the going.

Kyle Busch, whose flat tire came during a caution period, was able to pit and get it changed. He finished sixth.  Michael McDowell avoided trouble and was rewarded with a seventh-place finish; his second top-10 of the season.  Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace, and Joey Logano, who started on pole after winning a blind draw, rounded out the top 10.

The win is the 53rd of Harvick’s career and his fourth of the season tying him with Hamlin for the most wins in 2020.

“Winning never gets old,” Harvick said smiling.

The NASCAR Cup series moves to Kentucky Speedway next Sunday.

Greg Engle