A piece of tape. That’s what helped Kevin Harvick score his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series win at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday. On the final pit stop of the 500 miler Harvick’s crew put an extra piece of tape on the front grill that helped with downforce.
Harvick, who had been running in the top five most of the day, and led laps early, was able to reel in Martin Truex Jr. this years accomplished master on NASCAR’s 1.5-mile tracks having won 6 of the 10 1.5 mile races this season. Harvick was able to get past Truex with 10 laps to go to score his first Texas win, his second of the season and the 37th of his career.
“I saw the 42 (Kyle Larson) at the beginning of the race really driving into one really deep,” Harvick said. “For me, I knew I needed to do something different in order to get past Martin. I tried to just start driving it in there and we kept going faster and faster. I picked up like two-tenths. I kept driving it in there and one lap I got close enough to get the air off the back of his car. I actually got to the outside and was able to pass him on the outside.”
Even more importantly, the 2014 champion has secured his spot in the Round of 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks.
“Today we had to earn it,” Harvick said. To be able to pass the 78 car for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5 mile at Homestead to race for the championship.”
Truex led a race high 107 laps and while he came up short of the win, he is locked into the Round of 4 on points.
“I knew he (Kevin Harvick) was quicker – once he got around the 11 (Denny Hamlin) I guess it was,” Truex said. “He started coming really fast and that’s all I had. 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.”
Denny Hamlin finished third, Matt Kenseth fourth.
Brad Keselowski had the comeback of the day after making contact with Kyle Busch on the first lap of the race. Keselowski fought back from two laps down to finish fifth. He leaves Texas 19 points above the cut line; Hamlin 19 points below.
Four drivers will need to win at Phoenix to move to the Round of 4. In addition to Hamlin, another is defending NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. Despite starting in the top 10, Johnson never contended struggling to a 27th place finish two laps down.
“I’m definitely disappointed,” Johnson said. “And, I honestly just feel bad for my team. These guys are working so hard. And to work this hard and not see any speed go back in the car and have bad results as the last three weeks have been is pretty disappointing.”
Ryan Blaney struggled early in the race, but rallied to finish sixth; he’s 22 points below the cut line.
Chase Elliott ran strong but never had the speed to contend for the win. He finished eighth and is 49 points below the cutoff line.
“We weren’t very good all day,” Elliott said. “Had some good restarts there and was able to get some decent track position at times, just never could hold it, so a frustrating afternoon.”
The only way one of these three drivers can be assured of a spot in the final 4 is win next week.
“That’s all we can do,” Blaney said. “It’s gonna be hard to point your way in because everyone is running pretty good.”
Harvick won the first stage, Kyle Larson the second and was competitive much of the day but saw his race end with a hard crash on lap 283.
Behind Blaney in sixth, Joey Logano was seventh. Kurt Busch was ninth behind Elliott with Erik Jones rounding out the top 10.
In his final Texas race as a fulltime driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost a left front hub on lap 243 and was forced to the garage; he would return but finished 35th, 30 laps down.
Earnhardt Jr. headed to the garage during the caution with possible brake problems. The crew diagnosed it as a left hub issue.
The final race to determine the final driver in the Round of 4 will be the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway next Sunday. The green flag will fall just after 2:30 pm. ET with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.