Harvick holds off Blaney to secure final-four spot
Victory in Texas ensured Stewarthaas Racing’s Kevin Harvick of his spot among the final four playoff drivers who will fight it out for the NASCAR Cup title at the Homestead finale later this month.
After he had swept the first two stages and carried a four-second lead into the final 40 laps of the 337-lap race, Harvick’s comfortable run to the finish was interrupted by three late-race cautions to prompt a challenge from Ryan Blaney.
The two exchanged the lead after the second restart but, heading into the final green flag, Harvick emphatically stormed around the outside of the #12 Penske Ford to seize the win by 0.447s.
After bumping Martin Truex Jr at the final corner to win at Martinsville, and in turn book a ‘championship four’ place in the process, third-placed Joey Logano was at the centre of controversy for the second week in a row.
Playoff contender Aric Almirola accused the Penske driver of crowding him at Turn 3 as the two battled over the final podium spot. The turbulence sent Almirola into a slide and cost him several positions. After finishing in eighth, he remains outside of the points cutoff and now enters the final ‘round of eight’ race 57 points adrift of the top four with only 60 available.
“[Logano] continues to make it hard on himself,” said Almirola. “If that’s the way he wants to race me when he’s already locked in to Homestead, when [that race] comes around – if
I’m not in – he’ll know it. I’ll make it really difficult on him.”
Finishing the race in seventh, Kurt Busch enters the final ‘round of eight’ race 25 points adrift of securing a ‘championship four’ place, while Chase Elliott – who crossed the line sixth
– is 39 points behind qualification.
Clint Bowyer collided with Denny Hamlin on the first lap and struggled to 26th. Now 73 points behind, he can only reach the ‘championship four’ by winning at Phoenix.
Truex and Kyle Busch remain on course to qualify on points. Both endured a tricky race mired by pitlane penalties, but finishing in ninth and 17th respectively means they retain a points cushion entering next weekend, 25 and 28 points clear of the cutoff.
Harvick celebrates final-four place amid Victory Lane razzamataz
A mere 0.4s decided race victory, Harvick (l) beating Blaney (r)