It was all about strategy Sunday. Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing crew played the right game and came home with the win. Here’s how it all went down Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
From his second consecutive pole, and his first at Sonoma, Kyle Larson led the field to the green. His teammate Jamie McMurray was second, with Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger rounding out the top five. Matt Kenseth was one of two cars to be sent to the rear. Kenseth due to an engine change prior to qualifying and Alon Day making his Cup debut missed driver introductions.
Larson had a clear lead by the first turn as McMurray followed. Truex was third, Allmendinger fourth Kyle Busch fifth.
But the end of the first lap, Larson was stretching out his lead as Truex was trying to hold off Allmendinger. Nearly the entire field was soon single file. Daniel Suarez pitted on lap 3 with a flat spotted tire. The lead for Larson was up to 1.29 seconds.
Truex was looking for second at the start of lap 4. Kyle Busch locked up his tires entering turn 11 on the same lap. He pitted with flat spotted tires. Truex took second on the same lap, Allmendinger followed and soon McMurray was fourth, Danica Patrick fifth.
Truex was starting to close the gap it was under a second by lap 9. He took the lead at the start of lap 10.
Kevin Harvick had charged up to fourth from his 12th place starting spot, Larson slipped to third on lap 11. Kenseth was up to 20th.
Harvick took third on lap 13. MacMurray was fifth behind; on the same lap, Dale Earnhardt Jr. tried to take sixth from Patrick entering turn 1; Earnhardt locked up his wheels slid across the turn stopping at the apex; Patrick’s car softly t-boned Earnhardt’s Chevy after Earnhardt slid across the track, clipping Larson; both had minimal damage. The first caution of the day came out.
The leaders pitted as 10 drivers behind the leaders, and led by Chirrs Buescher stayed out. Allmendinger was first off pit road, followed by Truex, Harvick, Larson and Ryan Newman. During the stops, Earnhardt was penalized for speeding during the stops.
Buescher led followed by Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Allmendinger started 11th when green came out on lap 15.
The front row was side by side as behind the field bunched up. Buescher was final able to wrest the lead away by turn 10; Allmendinger was fifth. Allmendinger took fourth at the end of the lap and shortly had third. The field was again strung out; and Allmendinger took the lead to start lap 18. Kyle Busch who had not pitted soon had second, Truex took third. Larson had fourth a lap later.
Truex took second on lap 21.
With the pits getting ready to close at the end of the stage several drivers pitted; Among them Buescher, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Kenseth. Truex took the lead on lap 22, just as pit road closed; Clint Bowyer spun but continued and there was no caution.
Kyle Busch was penalized for speeding; Kurt Busch and Michael McDowell were penalized for pitting just as the pits closed. The Kurt Busch penalty was later rescinded when NASCAR saw that he had driven through the pits without stopping.
Top 10 Stage 1: Truex, Allmendinger, Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and Bowyer.
Truex stayed out as Allmendinger and Larson were among those behind who pitted.
The top five on the restart on lap 30 Truex, Blaney, Hamlin, Joey Logano and Dillon. Allmendinger who had come out first among those who pitted, restarted 22nd.
Truex had the lead by turn 1, but Blaney was close behind. By the end of the lao, Truex was starting to stretch out his lead.
The third caution of the day came out on lap 31 when Patrick was spun in turn 4 after contact with Earnhardt who was tapped by Larson; she made contact with Stenhouse; both continued but with heavy damage.
Green came out on lap 33. Truex had a clear lead by turn 1 and was able to move away from Blaney. Hamlin was third.
Fighting his way forward, Allmendinger trying to make a pass at turn 11 spun; he was clipped by Larson. He was able to continue and there was no caution. Larson was forced to pit for repairs. Up front Jimmie Johnson was fourth, Larson fifth.
Allmendinger pitted on lap 35. The lead was up to 1.8 seconds; as Blaney was defending from Hamlin; it was for naught as Hamlin took second on lap 36. A lap later the lead was 2.4 seconds.
The fourth cation of the day came out on lap 39 for debris just after Johnson took second from Hamlin.
Truex was among those who pitted. Blaney followed. Hamlin was out first, followed by Logano, Blaney, Dillon and Truex. 17 cars stayed out led by Johnson.
Johnson led with the green came out on lap 40; Harvick and McMurray dueled side by side for second. Harvick had the spot by the end of the lap. Kenseth soon had fourth, Keselowski fifth. Johnson was soon stretching out his lead. At the start of lap 41, Kenseth took third. By lap 42 the lead was just over 2 seconds.
Suarez spun on lap 44 but was able to continue; he was 10th, rejoined the field in 20th.
MacMurray, Harvick and several behind pitted one lap prior to the closing of pit road, lap 47. Truex pitted as well. Issues on his stop as his crew struggled with a tire, slowed it. Johnson’s lead was 5.5 seconds over Keselowski.
Top 10 Stage 2: Johnson, Keselowski, Kenseth, Hamlin, Logano, Earnhardt, Blaney, Dillon, Chase Elliott and Newman: caution five was displayed to end the stage.
Johnson, Keselowski, Kenseth and Logano pitted; most behind stayed out. Johnson was out first, followed by Keselowski, Logano, Kenseth and Blaney.
Hamlin inherited the lead. Earnhardt was second, Austin Dillon, Newman and Larson were the top five when green came out on lap 54. Johnson restarted 22nd. Hamlin charged to the lead, Earnhardt fell behind in second, Dillon third. Behind them it was a three-wide battle with Larson, Kyle Busch and Kahne. When it sorted out it was Larson fifth followed by Kahne and Kyle Busch.
Kyle Busch fought his way forward and was second by lap 60; Earnhardt, Harvick and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 5.
Hamlin slipped and Busch took the lead on lap 62; Harvick followed and took second. Truex with fresher tires was fifth, Earnhardt had fallen to sixth.
Truex took third on lap 63. Hamlin fell to fourth.
Harvick was looking for the lead and took it at the start of lap 64. Truex took second shortly after. Harvick had a one second lead.
That lead was erased by lap 65 and Truex was looking for the lead. He took the top spot to start lap 66. Kyle Busch was third, three seconds back. Kurt Busch was fourth, Hamlin fifth.
Earnhardt pitted on lap 68; Larson followed. Kyle Busch pitted a lap later. Johnson and Hamlin pitted on lap 69. Truex pitted a lap later, Harvick, Hamlin and others came with him.
McMurray inherited the lead, but pitted a lap later just as Keselowski and Logano were fighting for second. Keselowski took the spot and the lead at turn 11.
Harvick came out fifth, Truex sixth. Truex then reported that he possibly had an engine going. Patrick was fourth, just behind Elliott.
Truex was slowing by lap 75. Allmendinger pitted with battery issues. Truex said he was losing his engine but remained sixth.
Patrick slowed and Harvick and Truex were able to get by on lap 78. The top three cars, still need to pit. Harvick took third on lap 79. Logano pitted on lap 80, that moved Harvick to second.
Truex took third on the same lap.
Logano was penalized for speeding. Elliott pitted. Keselowski’s lead was 10 seconds. He was the only car needing to pit. Harvick was soon eating into Keselowski’s lead.
The engine in Truex’s Toyota finally gave up on lap 86, and he pitted. His day was done after leading the most laps. Keselowski was still leading but it was down to 1.3 seconds back to Harvick. Hamlin was third, Kurt Busch fourth; Johnson fifth.
Harvick took the lead on lap 88. By lap 92 the lead was 4 seconds over Keselowski who pitted on lap 93; Kyle Busch followed. Hamlin inherited second 7 seconds back. Bowyer on a mission was third. Johnson was fourth, Austin Dillon fifth.
Earnhardt pitted from sixth on lap 95.
Kenseth and Billy Johnson spun in the S’s and got off course on lap 99 but both kept going. The lead for Harvick was 7 seconds.
The lead was 9 seconds with eight laps to go. Keselowski with fresher tires, was fourth with 7 to go.
Bowyer took second from Hamlin with 6 laps to go. The lead was seven seconds for Harvick.
When he took the white flag, the lead for Harvick was 9 seconds.
Kahne hit the wall in turn 1 hard on the final lap, but the caution did not come out and Harvick cruised to victory. Bowyer was second eight seconds behind, followed by Keselowski, Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Earnhardt was sixth, Elliott seventh, followed by Kurt Busch, McMurray and Blaney.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Daytona for Saturday nights Coke Zero 400. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 7:00 p.m. with the green flag coming out just after 7:30 p.m. ET.