HARVICK KISSES THE BRICKS AS THE PLAYOFFS ARE SET
by Zachary Hinson; Photos by Getty Images Fri, 2019-09-06 12:50
Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a crown jewel track that every racecar driver would love to go and win at and put their name in the record books as Kevin Harvick did this Sunday when he won the Big Machine Vodka 400 to capture his third win of the year. But for this year only, Indy became something more than just another race to win for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup drivers to win, it became a moment they had all been racing for all season, the moment the playoffs begin.Kevin Harvick, with no pressure to make the playoffs, got the pole while Paul Menard would surprise by starting second. Harvick got to a strong lead early on as he already had a over three second lead only five laps in. Soon after, the issues began for one driver trying to make the playoffs as Daniel Suarez brought out the caution after he got too high out of the corner and heavily scraped the wall but kept it moving.
Craziness began on pitroad when everyone came down and Chase Elliott got hit and spun into Bubba Wallace which nearly ran him into Jimmie Johnson. With the pile up from the contact, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr got heavy damage which effectively ended their promising days. Harvick had to fight Keselowski to keep the lead on the restart but was able to break away so much that he got an over six second lead in just a few laps. The caution then came out for a horrifying wreck for Landon Cassill as he had a mechanical issue in the middle of a corner and the car would not turn and went straight to the wall. The wreck was a heavy enough impact to crumple bits of the roof but, thanks to the years of safety development, Landon was able to walk away unscathed. Joey Logano and Ryan Newman went to stay out as Jimmie Johnson was the only driver to take 2 tires. Joey got away the pack while Johnson and Newman held their grounds. Another scary wreck would soon develop after Erik Jones went to low for a pass on Keselowski which sent Jones into the wall which Keselowski hit the tire barrier and ended up nearly on his side; thankfully both were able to walk away. The caution ended the stage; Logano got the win while Newman got the crucial points he needed.
After a red flag from Keselowski hitting the inside wall and damaging the barrier; Kyle Larson got the lead with Harvick second as most drivers pitted. Ryan Blaney pushed Harvick to try and get the lead from Larson, and after some racing between the two, Larson bobbled and gave second to Blaney. Somewhat working together thanks to the draft, Blaney and Larson began to catch Harvick and make ground on him. The makeshift alliance ended as green flag stop began and Harvick was being held up by Alex Bowman racing him hard to stay on the lead lap after pitting. Harvick would pit, which brought Larson and most of the lead lap cars with him the next lap. Kyle Busch was one of the cars to pit and as he pulled out, he immediately had trouble as his engine blew up; bringing out the caution. On the restart with five to go in the stage, Harvick would get ahead and win it as debris brought out a caution and ended the stage much to quite a few driver’s dismay.
Stage three was where the race began to take its toll on quite a few drivers. Harvick and Larson started the stage racing for the lead right as catastrophe struck for Jimmie Johnson. Johnson, who needed many points or a possible win, was in the top five for a majority of the race and tried to go three-wide and pass Kurt Busch and William Byron in one corner. Johnson lost control and slammed into the wall; collecting Busch and Daniel Hemric ending their good days as well. The wreck assured that Johnson would not make the playoffs; ending a fifteen-year streak of doing so. Larson, worried about some possible damage, pitted before the green flag which gave second to Blaney. On the restart, Harvick chose the bottom for the first time and lost the lead out of turn two. Meanwhile, the battle for the last cutoff position constantly stayed close as both Newman and Suarez kept gaining and losing positions to each other. Suarez continued to drop until his crew decided it was time to come in and pit; the decision was costly as Suarez had to get the lucky do to get back on the lead lap since a caution came out right as he did. Larson brought out that caution as he had completely lost his car in a corner and got into the wall; he was able to drive off, but the car was heavily damaged. Blaney won off pit road but would start second since Harvick had pitted at the perfect time right as the caution happened. Harvick got to the lead thanks to a heavy push from Bubba Wallace, who had been slicing through the field thanks to working together with Byron on the previous run. The caution came out right out of turn two as Denny Hamlin squeezed Bowman too low; resulting in Bowman spinning into the inside wall. Twenty to go on the restart and Harvick is out front again; a near caution as Matt Dibenedetto bumps Aric Almirola, but Almirola kept it straight and in control. With fifteen to go, Suarez got into Matt Tifft and spun him out; setting up a ten-lap shootout. On the final restart of the day, Wallace gave Logano a strong push to get him side-by-side for the lead. Harvick went on to win the battle and the race with Logano second and Wallace in third, his first top-five of the season. The race ended with Newman only a few positions ahead of Suarez to edge him out for the last playoff position.
That leaves Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Newman as the sixteen drivers to start racing for the championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway next week.