He came, he saw, he closed.
Kevin Harvick lived up to his nickname of “The Closer” on Sunday afternoon from Texas Motor Speedway, winning the AAA Texas 500 to clinch his spot in the championship four from Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks. In doing so, he did the unthinkable: pass Martin Truex Jr. for the lead on a 1.5-mile track in 2017. Yes, people. Someone actually beat MTJ.
Kevin Harvick had been notorious for hanging around the top 10 for most of the race and winding up in Victory Lane thanks to a late-race pass for the bulk of his career. But since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, he’d been dominating, leading laps and didn’t have to come from behind to take away wins from unsuspecting competition.
But that’s what he did on Sunday in the AAA Texas 500, passing Martin Truex Jr. with 10 laps remaining and pulling away to win by over 1.5 seconds to secure his spot in the championship four, the third time in four years Harvick will be eligible for the MENCS title in Miami.
“(Darn), it’s good to be in Victory Lane here in Texas,” Harvick told NBCSN on the frontstretch after the win. “I knew I had a really good car. I knew I had to do something different. I started driving a whole lot deeper in (turn) one. A whole lot deeper. I started doing that earlier in the race, but I was afraid I didn’t have the brakes to continue to do that all day. I waited until the end and was able to get on the outside of Martin (Truex Jr.) (off turn two) and got him loose and brushed across the back of him and was able to get by on the outside down there.”
HAPPY ONTO HOMESTEAD
Believe it or not, this was Harvick’s first win at Texas ever in the Cup Series. 29 tries, zero trips to Victory Lane. But that all changed on Sunday, as he finally broke through.
“It’s nice to get that monkey off our back,” Harvick said to NBCSN of finally winning at Texas. “Look, we’ve qualified well here, raced well here since I’ve been at Stewart-Haas Racing. We’ve won six or seven XFINITY races, Truck races. So, to kind of complete that whole sweep of winning in all the divisions is something that’s cool. I think the timing of it is probably the best thing. I think not having to go to Phoenix and count points, try to win the race, do all the things that you might have to do, especially in this scenario, because if it wasn’t me, it could have been the No. 11 car (Denny Hamlin) very easily. That puts everybody in a bad spot going to Phoenix.”
Truex Jr. followed Harvick across the finish line in second place, with Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five. Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, pole sitter Kurt Busch and Erik Jones completed the top 10 from Texas Motor Speedway.
Some other notable finishers included Daniel Suarez in 14th, Kyle Busch in 19th after contact with Keselowski on lap one, Jimmie Johnson in 27th after multiple issues and Kyle Larson in 37th after winning stage two, leading 74 laps but crashing in stage three.
He might not have gotten his eighth win of the season after getting passed with 10 laps to go, but Martin Truex Jr. did indeed clinch a spot in the championship four in Miami. Despite leading the most laps (107) in the race, a second-place finish was more than enough to advance.
Coming into the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, if Truex Jr. was up by 56 points when the checkered flag flew, he’d be in. And after 500 miles, the No. 78 was up by 57 points. His average finish in these playoffs, discounting Talladega where he wrecked, is a whopping 2.28.
“To win seven races, it’s been an amazing season,” Truex Jr. said to NBCSN of officially clinching his spot at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “When you get two seconds in a row and you’re disappointed, it says something about your team and your confidence in them. Just can’t thank everyone enough for their support throughout the years. I’m really excited to go to Homestead and I think we’ll have something for (the other three drivers in Miami).”
ONE SPOT REMAINS
With Kyle Busch’s victory at Martinsville, Harvick’s win this past Sunday and Martin Truex Jr.’s points total being almost as high as Mount Everest, three of the four spots for Homestead-Miami Speedway have been claimed, leaving one and only one spot up for grabs next weekend.
Johnson, Hamlin, Keselowski, Blaney and Chase Elliott are the five drivers that’ll be fighting for that fourth and final spot. Right now, Keselowski holds the fourth spot based on points and can more than likely clinch his spot in Miami with another solid finish.
For all intents and purposes, they must win the race to get in. That’s not only the easiest way to lock yourself in, but it’s probably the most logical, given the circumstances. Truex Jr. has been dominant on every type of track this season, Busch has one win at Phoenix and has failed to finish outside the top five in the desert since 2014 and Harvick—well—he’s the Cactus King and has a track-record eight wins. He hasn’t won there in over one year, which is crazy by his standards, but with the No. 4 team peaking at the right time, they should be dangerous.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the valley of the sun, Phoenix International Raceway, this upcoming weekend for the penultimate race of the 2017 season. The Can-Am 500 is scheduled to go green at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBC. The NASCAR XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series will also be in action, as their championship fours will be set this weekend.