Harvick claims the first Cup Michigan race of the weekend

Following a late battle and the slightest of contact with Kyle Busch in the closing laps, Kevin Harvick prevailed through a series of late restarts and in overtime against Brad Keselowski to win the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday, August 8, the first of two NASCAR Cup Series races at Michigan of the weekend. The victory was Harvick’s fifth of the season, fourth at Michigan and the 54th of his Cup Series career.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Joey Logano started on pole position for the second time this season and was joined on the front row with Denny Hamlin. 

Prior to the race, NASCAR confiscated the spoilers from the Roush Fenway Racing two-car lineup of Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher during the pre-race inspection process. With both teams violating Section 12.4.12.b (spoiler section) of the NASCAR Cup rule book, both competitors dropped to the rear of the field and they were also docked 20 driver/owner points. In addition, their crew chiefs (Scott Graves and Luke Lambert) were each fined $25,000 for the infraction. Jimmie Johnson and Joey Gase also dropped to the rear of the field due to their respective cars failing pre-race inspection twice.


American Muscle

When the green flag and the race commenced following a 45-minute delay because of the delayed Xfinity Series race occurring at Road America, Logano received a push from Aric Almirola on the outside lane to jump to an early lead as he led the first lap. The following lap, Hamlin attempted to pass Logano on the inside lane, but he lost his momentum entering Turn 2 as Logano retained the lead while Almirola challenged Hamlin for the runner-up spot. Behind, Kevin Harvick was in fourth followed by Alex Bowman, teammate Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski, all of whom battled one another through Turns 3 and 4. 

In Turn 1, Keselowski lost his momentum and dropped all the way back to 12th behind rookie Tyler Reddick, who was fresh off a one-year contract extension deal with Richard Childress Racing. 

After the first 10 laps, Logano, who reported a vibration, was still leading by less than two-tenths of a second over Hamlin with teammates Almirola and Harvick trailing behind and battling one another for third place. A few laps later, Almirola dropped out of the top five after being overtaken by Harvick and Kurt Busch. 

On Lap 14, Hamlin made a move beneath Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford in Turn 3 and both battled dead even for the lead through Turns 4 and 1. While Hamlin led the 15th lap, Logano cleared Hamlin for the lead back in Turn 2 just as the competition caution flew. Prior to the competition caution, Ryan Blaney made a green flag pit stop for early adjustments and fresh tires for the ensuing restart. At the time of caution, Almirola had fallen back to 10th place and Martin Truex Jr. was in sixth while Harvick, Bowman and Kurt Busch were scored in the top five. Erik Jones and Chase Elliott were in 11th and 12th while Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron were in 14th and 15th. Clint Bowyer was in 16th, Jimmie Johnson was in 17th and Ryan Newman was in 29th. 

Under caution, a majority of competitors led by Keselowski, Almirola, Elliott, rookie Cole Custer, Byron, Austin Dillon and Newman pitted while the rest led by Logano, Hamlin, Reddick and Harvick remained on track. 

The race restarted on Lap 19 and Hamlin received a push from Reddick on the inside lane to move into the lead through Turns 1 and 2. Behind, Logano, who restarted on the outside lane, retained the runner-up spot followed by Harvick, Kurt Busch and Bowman. A lap later, Truex cut a right-front tire in Turn 3 after making contact with Reddick in Turn 2. He was able to keep his car off the wall and return to pit road for two fresh right-side tires. The misfortune, however, cost Truex two laps.

At the front, Harvick gained a run on Hamlin in Turn 4 and was able to pass Hamlin’s No. 11 FedEx Toyota to emerge with the lead on Lap 23. Behind, Blaney bolted his way into sixth place followed by Reddick and Jones. 

By Lap 30, Harvick was ahead by two-tenths of a second over Hamlin. Kurt Busch was in third followed by Blaney, Bowman and Jones. Elliott was in eighth while Logano was back in ninth following contact with Kyle Busch in Turn 2. Bowyer was in 12th, Johnson was in 14th, Byron was in 17th and Almirola was in 18th. Truex was in 36th while Reddick, who had been running inside the top 10, was back in 35th after making an unscheduled pit stop under green a few laps earlier.

With no one behind him nor close enough to challenge for the lead, Harvick was able to cruise to the win in the first stage on Lap 40 as he claimed his third stage victory of the season. Hamlin trailed in second place and above half a second followed by Blaney, Kurt Busch and Keselowski. Jones, Bowman, Elliott, Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were scored in the top 10. Logano had fallen back to 18th while battling loose-handling conditions to his car.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Hamlin exited pit road first ahead of Harvick following a stellar pit stop from the FedEx crew. Blaney exited in third place followed by Keselowski and Kurt Busch.

Prior to the start of the second stage and with the new choose rule implemented, Harvick dropped from second to fourth to restart on the outside lane while Keselowski was lined up in second place and beneath Hamlin on the front row. In addition, Jones moved up from sixth to third as the second car to restart on the bottom lane while Bowyer moved up from ninth to fifth.

The second stage started on Lap 47 and Hamlin gained a huge run on the outside lane to retain the lead. While the field behind battled intensely against one another and raced three to four wide for position, Blaney took the lead on Lap 49. Harvick settled right behind Blaney in second followed by Kurt Busch while Hamlin and Keselowski battled for fourth. 

By Lap 55, Blaney was still ahead by less than four-tenths of a second over Harvick followed by Kurt Busch and Jones, who gained a huge run on the outside lane to pass both Hamlin and Keselowski for position a few laps earlier. Bowman trailed behind in seventh followed by Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Bubba Wallace. Elliott and Logano were in 12th and 15th while Johnson was in 17th. Reddick, who took the wave around to return to the lead lap under the first stage break, was in 26th while Truex was in 34th, still a lap behind. 

Five laps later and with less than 100 laps remaining of the overall race, Blaney was still leading by less than half a second over Harvick with Michigan natives Jones and Keselowski lingering behind. Soon after, Hamlin joined the party as he battled teammate Jones and Keselowski for position inside the top five.

With Blaney leading by less than two-tenths of a second over Harvick on Lap 67, the Busch brothers started to close in towards the top-five competitors for position. By Lap 76, Harvick benefitted from Blaney getting stuck behind a lapped car to reassume the lead. By then, Reddick made another unscheduled pit stop after he reported a flat tire to his No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Behind the leaders, Keselowski moved up to third after passing Hamlin, who earlier nearly wrecked with the lapped car of Timmy Hill. Both competitors continued to battle intensely for the spot as the laps of the second stage continued to dwindle.

Like his run to the conclusion of the first stage, Harvick was able to pull away from Blaney by less than a second and not worry about any lapped traffic to win the second stage on Lap 85 and claim his fourth stage victory of the season. Blaney settled in second followed by Hamlin, Jones and Keselowski. Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Bowyer and Johnson settled in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Harvick, this time, exited pit road with the lead followed by Hamlin, Blaney, Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

The final stage under green occurred with 65 laps remaining and Hamlin, who restarted on the inside lane, received a push from teammate Jones to move into the lead. In Turn 3, however, Jones and Harvick attempted to place Hamlin in a three-wide situation for the lead. While Jones slipped and dropped back into the top 10, Harvick was able to muscle his way back into the lead. Keselowski advanced to the runner-up spot over Hamlin while Blaney and Kyle Busch moved into the top five.

The caution returned shortly after when rookie John Hunter Nemechek spun in a flurry of circles on the frontstretch following contact with Chris Buescher. With the caution, Truex received the free pass and cycled back to the lead lap. Under caution, few that included Buescher, Corey LaJoie, Newman, Almirola, Reddick and Nemechek pitted while the rest remained on track.

With 58 laps remaining, the race restarted and Harvick was able to clear Hamlin on the outside lane to retain the lead. Keselowski and Hamlin battled again for the runner-up spot followed by Kyle Busch and Bowyer while Blaney, Johnson, rookie Christopher Bell, Jones and Elliott settled in the top 10. 

Eight laps later, the caution returned for another spin in Turn 4 involving Nemechek. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Kyle Busch emerged with the lead after only taking fuel for his No. 18 M&M’s Fudge Brownie Toyota Camry. Jones and Truex followed suit after they elected for only fuel to their respective Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas followed by Elliott and Bell, both of whom opted for a two-tire stop. Harvick also opted for a two-tire stop to remain within sight of the lead.

Prior to the restart and with the choose rule implemented, Harvick moved up to the front row on the inside lane beneath Kyle Busch while Austin Dillon and Jones lined up right behind the leaders. Keselowski lined up in fifth next to Truex followed by Hamlin and Elliott.

With 46 laps remaining, the race restarted and Kyle Busch received a push from teammate Jones to retain the lead on the outside lane. A lap later, Harvick made a move beneath Kyle Busch in Turn 1 to reassume the lead. Behind, Truex passed teammate Jones and started to challenge teammate Kyle Busch for the runner-up spot. 

With 40 laps remaining and with fuel in question for the leaders to complete the race to its scheduled distance, Harvick was still ahead by less than eight-tenths of a second over Kyle Busch followed by Joe Gibbs Racing’s Truex and Jones. Elliott was in fifth place followed by Austin Dillon, Keselowski, Logano, Bell and Hamlin with Blaney in 11th.

Ten laps later, Harvick extended his advantage to more than a second over teammates Kyle Busch and Truex. Jones was in fourth while Elliott prevailed in a battle with Keselowski for fifth place. Behind, Hamlin was still running in 11th and trailing Team Penske’s Logano and Blaney for a spot in the top 10.

With 26 laps remaining, the caution returned for a third incident involving Nemechek in Turn 3, who made contact with the outside wall and sustained heavy rear end damage. Compared to his previous two incidents, this recent incident ended Nemechek’s race in the garage as he will move to a backup car for Sunday’s race at Michigan.

Under caution, some like Logano, Blaney, Bowyer, DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell, Matt Kenseth and Buescher pitted while the rest remained on track. Prior to the restart, Jones dropped back to sixth to restart as the fourth car on the outside lane while Elliott moved up to second and alongside Harvick on the front row. Keselowski and Kyle Busch were lined up behind the two leaders and in front of teammates Hamlin and Truex.

With 18 laps remaining, the race restarted and Elliott powered his way into the lead on the inside lane. While the field fanned out and battled for positions through the straightaways and the turns, Elliott maintained a narrow advantage over Harvick a lap later followed by a flurry of Toyota competitors led by Kyle Busch, Truex, Bell, Jones and Hamlin. 

Five laps after the restart and with the battle for the lead intensifying, the caution returned after Ryan Preece made contact with the outside wall in Turn 2. Under caution, some like Reddick and Kenseth pitted while the rest remained on track. Prior to the restart, Kyle Busch elected to restart on the inside lane beneath Elliott on the front row. Behind, Harvick and Hamlin restarted alongside one another in the second row. 

The race restarted with nine laps remaining and Kyle Busch received a push from teammate Hamlin to take the lead through Turns 1 and 2. In Turn 3, however, Kyle Busch slipped following close racing with Harvick, which nearly involved contact between the two, and Harvick reassumed the lead while Busch lost his momentum and fell back to the top 10. Shortly after, the caution flew when rookie Cole Custer made hard contact into the outside wall in Turn 3 and retired from the race, thus moving him to a backup car for Sunday’s race at Michigan. At the time of caution, Harvick was leading followed by Elliott, Hamlin, Blaney, Wallace, Jones and Truex while Kyle Busch was back in ninth. The race eventually went into a red flag period for nearly six minutes to allow the clean-up crew to clear the incident site in Turn 3 caused by Custer. 

Prior to the restart when the race resumed under caution, Hamlin elected to restart beneath Harvick on the inside line and on the front row in front of Wallace and Elliott with teammates Blaney and Keselowski in the third row. 

The race restarted with three laps remaining and Harvick and Hamlin battled dead even for the lead entering Turn 1. It was there where Wallace attempted to make a three-wide move for more, but it was not enough as Harvick reassumed the lead in Turn 2. Elliott moved up to second followed by Blaney, Keselowski and Truex while Hamlin and Wallace dropped back to sixth and seventh. In Turn 4, Austin Dillon, McDowell and Newman wrecked in Turn 4 as the caution returned and the race went into overtime. 

Prior to the overtime attempt, Keselowski restarted on the front row beneath Harvick in front of Hamlin and Elliott. Wallace and Blaney were lined up in the third row followed by Johnson and Truex.

In the first overtime attempt, Harvick and Keselowski battled dead even against one another through half a circuit with both not prevailing ahead of the other and receiving not drafting help from behind. In Turn 3, however, Harvick cleared Keselowski for the lead on the outside lane entering Turn 4. On the final lap, Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang were ahead by two-tenths of a second over Keselowski’s No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang. Though Keselowski remained within sight of Harvick, he was unable to gain any draft for the lead as Harvick was able to claim the checkered flag in first place and win by less than three-tenths of a second. 

The victory was also the 12th of the season for Ford and the sixth for Stewart-Haas Racing. With his 54th career win, Harvick moved into a tie with the late Lee Petty for 11th place on the all-time series wins list.

“This was an awesome car to drive today,” Harvick said on NBCSN. “The restarts were obviously a handful, but our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang was really fast today and we held on for the long run and would really go on the short run and did everything we needed it to do. I think that the confidence is high when we come to Michigan. It’s a race track that’s been really good to us and just fits our style of cars. [Crew chief] Rodney [Childers] and [the No. 4 crew] have given me great racecars at Michigan every time we’ve come… I can’t say enough about our whole organization. Since we’ve come back from COVID, the work that these guys and gals are putting in at the race shop and the organization, they’ve had a lot of really good training from Tony Stewart in awkward situations on how to prepare for things. Thanks, Smoke!”

“I knew I needed to be right there [with Kyle Busch],” Harvick added regarding the contact with Kyle Busch. “I couldn’t tell if I touched him. I knew I wanted that side draft there. I knew that we had a fast enough car to pass him, but I knew that I needed to take the opportunity I had and I needed to side draft him.”

Keselowski finished in second place as he came one spot short of winning at his home track. Truex ended his race in third place followed by Blaney and Kyle Busch, who nipped teammate Hamlin at the line for a top-five run. 

“[Harvick] is just super fast in the corners and the straightaway,” Keselowski said. “He was definitely the best car out here today. We put a good effort to kind of maximize our day and that is what we did, finished second. Proud of everyone on the Discount Tire Ford Mustang team. We will go back to work on it and hopefully find a little bit more for the race [Sunday].”

“I just didn’t get loose and turn up to the wall by myself,” Kyle Busch said regarding the contact with Harvick. “I don’t know whether he hit me or it was just air. It was close enough that it disturbed my car and made me have to get out of [the gas] real bad and chase it real bad. Thankfully, we kept it out of the fence and at least try to salvage something out of it. That’s a pretty good run for us there. I felt like we had a fast car, but it was the best of the rest. [Harvick] was lights out. He deserved to win the race, anyways. It was a race for second today, overall. We’ve been fighting hard all year. We’ve been running well enough for good finishes. We just aren’t getting them. Today was another indication of that. We should’ve finished second, I guess, but a top five it is.”

Hamlin, Elliott, Logano, Wallace and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10. Buescher finished 20th and will start on pole position for the second Cup Michigan race on Sunday, August 9, alongside Bowyer with the top-20 finishers on Saturday being inverted for Sunday.

Jones, who will not be remaining with Joe Gibbs Racing after this season, finished 11th and is 16 points behind 14th-place finisher Byron for the 16th and final spot to the 2020 Playoffs with five regular-season races remaining. Reddick, who finished 18th, is 19 points behind while Johnson, who finished 12th, is 22 points behind. DiBenedetto and Bowyer, both of whom finished 15th and 19th, are 40 and 41 points above the top-16 cutline while Wallace, who notched a career-high fourth top-10 result of this season, remains 123 points below the cutline.

There were 12 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured nine cautions for 43 laps.

With his victory, Harvick continues to lead the regular-season series standings by 94 points over Keselowski, 127 over Hamlin and 128 over Blaney.

Results.

1. Kevin Harvick, 92 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

2. Brad Keselowski

3. Martin Truex Jr.

4. Ryan Blaney, 27 laps

5. Kyle Busch, four laps led

6. Denny Hamlin, 10 laps led

7. Chase Elliott, nine laps led

8. Joey Logano, 18 laps led

9. Bubba Wallace

10. Kurt Busch

11. Erik Jones

12. Jimmie Johnson

13. Christopher Bell

14. William Byron

15. Matt DiBenedetto

16. Aric Almirola

17. Matt Kenseth 

18. Tyler Reddick

19. Clint Bowyer

20. Chris Buescher

21. Alex Bowman

22. Corey LaJoie

23. Ty Dillon

24. Daniel Suarez

25. Ryan Preece

26. J.J. Yeley, one lap led

27. Quin Houff

28. Ryan Newman 

29. Michael McDowell

30. Reed Sorenson

31. Austin Dillon

32. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

33. Timmy Hill, two laps down

34. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident 

35. Garrett Smithley – OUT, Steering

36. John Hunter Nemechek – OUT, Accident

37. Brennan Poole – OUT, Engine

38. James Davison, 58 laps down

39. Joey Gase – OUT, Transmission

The NASCAR Cup Series will return the following day, August 9, for its second Michigan race of the season, which will air on 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.


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