Former NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Champion Kevin Harvick is going to run for another championship in two weeks in Miami. Harvick scored a major victory on Sunday afternoon in the AAA Texas 500 passing the most dominant car all season, especially on the 1.5 mile tracks in Martin Truex Jr. to punch his ticket to Homestead.
It was a veteran, savvy and calculated pass by Harvick as he tracked down the 78, raced him clean, picked his spot and made the pass with 10 to go. This was Harvick’s first win at Texas throughout his storied career and second of the season to go with his Sonoma victory, and what a time to score that second win of the season. Harvick always rises to the occasion when the lights shine the brightest, he feeds off the adrenaline and is a playoff performer, we saw him flip that switch when he won it all in 2014. The win was Harvick’s 37th of his career.
“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) 1, 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. So I waited until the end and was able to get on the outside of Martin (off turn 2) and got him loose and brushed across the back of him and was able to get by on the outside down there,” Harvick said when describing the closing moments of the race in Victory Lane.
After the race at Texas, we know that Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick will be running for a championship at Homestead on Novemeber 19th after their wins at Martinsville and Texas respectively. Martin Truex Jr., after back-to-back runner-up finishes and all the playoff points and wins he has piled up, is locked in for Miami on points as in no scenario can he miss the cut at Phoenix .
That leaves one spot. Brad Keselowski currently holds that coveted position with a 19-point advantage over Denny Hamlin who is in fifth position. Ryan Blaney is in sixth position in the standings, three-points in back of Hamlin. Down in the bottom two positions are Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Johnson a seven-time Texas winner, was knocked out of contention early with a unsceduled stop due to a vibration during stage one. The 48 lost several laps and never made them up finishing 27th.
Hamlin and Blaney have a shot on points if they run up front all day and pick up stage points and the No. 2 doesn’t run as well, but a win for either of the four drivers below the cutoff line sends Brad home no matter how great he runs on the afternoon.
The good news for Jimmie Johnson and his fans as he looks to keep the opportunity to run for a record eight championship alive is that he’s won at Phoenix four times in his career. The bad news is he hasn’t won at the track since 2009 and this team hasn’t shown nearly the speed or consistency that we’re used to seeing. Never count out the seven-time champion, but I would be surprised if Jimmie and Chad Knaus were able to put it all together and end up in victory lane. If that happens, look out in Miami, but this team won’t give up and will go down fighting.
Kevin Harvick, the King of Phoenix with 8 wins, now doesn’t have to rely on his success at the track to advance to Miami. The win at Texas takes the pressure off and he can watch the other five competitors sweat it out for that final position. Denny Hamlin, meanwhile, always seems to run up front at Phoenix and has had a chance to win each of the last two races in the playoffs. I think with a good starting position on Friday, the No. 11 can run up front and punch his ticket to Miami with a win on Sunday. Hamlin is riding a wave of momentum since the Martinsville melee with the driver of the No. 24 and seems to feed off the criticism and boos like his JGR teammate Kyle Busch.
Not to be lost in the shuffle from Sunday is that former champion Matt Kenseth finished fourth on Sunday. After announcing he would be stepping away from racing in 2018 with no offers to drive next year from competitive teams, Kenseth went out and scored a top-5 finish at Texas despite having to start in the back after failing to qualify and get through tech inspection. This could very well be the final two races of a storied career for Kenseth and not just the end for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as two future Hall of Fame driver say goodbye to the sport.
One race to run before the final four compete for a title. Must-see TV in Phoenix on Sunday and five drivers will play musical chairs on the racetrack jockeying for position to claim the last seat at the championship table. Harvick locked up his seat with a win at Texas and the driver of the No. 4 Mobil One Ford will be riding a wave of momentum to Miami.
Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank