Sunday was a near-perfect day for Kevin Harvick. There may have been some déjà vu as well.
Back in 2003 Harvick won the Brickyard 400 from pole position. Now, 16 years later, he did it again. While the first one is always the sweetest, this one was just as rewarding. Harvick actually earned the pole in the morning, as qualifying took place about four hours before the green flag. In the 2003 race, Harvick led just 33 of the 160 laps. Today, he dominated the field by leading 118 laps. The margin of victory was actually 6.118 seconds.
When Harvick was out in front, no one could challenge him. Through various restarts and pit stops, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver managed to keep his Ford up front, away from the competition. Joey Logano came up just one spot short of back-to-back Brickyard victories for Roger Penske. Logano put up a worthy battle on the last restart but just didn’t have enough to overtake him. Bubba Wallace had an amazing run on Sunday, finishing in 3rd after starting back in 15th position. William Byron came all the way from the 29th starting position to finish in 4th place to lead the way for Hendrick Motorsports. Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five and locked himself into the playoffs, which begin next week.
Denny Hamlin had a much better day on Sunday than he did on Saturday. In the final seconds of practice, Hamlin hit the outside wall and was forced to go to a backup car. Starting 33rd, the veteran driver charged to the front and finished 6th. Hamlin led the way for Joe Gibbs Racing, as their other three drivers went backward. Martin Truex Jr had contact on pit lane during the first caution and finished where he started in 27th. Erik Jones got caught up in an accident and finished 39th. Kyle Busch was looking for the weekend sweep, but his engine let go on Lap 87 and finished 37th.
The biggest story perhaps was Jimmie Johnson getting caught up in the big accident on Lap 105 that ended his hopes at making the playoffs. Johnson’s streak of 15 years of making the postseason came to an end with his 35th place finish.“Yeah, it’s really disappointing,” Johnson said after the eight-car wreck. “Unfortunately, we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we’re in here today and we needed a stellar day. I’m really proud of my team with what’s been going on. “The No. 1 car (Kurt Busch) had a little trouble on the restart. I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight. It’s unfortunate that happened. Certainly, it’s not what we needed on that restart.”
Kyle Larson and defending race winner Brad Keselowski were strong, battling for the lead all afternoon. Both drivers were caught up in separate incidents that ended their day. Keselowski’s accident with Jones was much more serious, as he went crashing into the tire barrier on the exit of Turn 2. It was a hard hit for the Penske driver, who ended up at a 45-degree angle and had to climb out of his Ford. Fortunately, he was not injured in the crash.
The battle for the final two playoff positions among the four drivers was intense, all the way to the very end. Bowyer was in with his top-five finish, and Johnson was out with his DNF. The final spot came down to Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez. The two were in the same camera shot on the final restart, and it was the veteran Newman that finished ahead. The difference was just four points, as the Roush Fenway Racing driver is one of 16 drivers eligible for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship, which begins next weekend in Las Vegas.
Harvick earned his 48th career victory, and now has an average finishing position of 8.9 in the Brickyard 400, which is best among all active drivers. The playoff seedings have officially been set.
Saturday’s Xfinity Series race was another solid show. Despite Busch winning the event again, there were plenty of storylines that played out during the 100-lap race. It may have been Kyle’s fourth Brickyard win, but he definitely had to work hard for this one. A late-race incident between two of the best cars did help Kyle get the victory.
Defending race winner Justin Allgaier was right on the rear bumper in the closing laps and all the way to the finish line. The margin of victory was just 0.132 seconds in a five-lap shootout after Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick crashed hard while battling for the lead. It was the fourth win in seven Xfinity starts this year for Busch, and his 96th Xfinity win overall. Had the wreck with Bell and Reddick not occurred, Kyle may not have been able to get back into the lead.
“It was really tough to pass, even when you had a run on a guy,” Busch said after the race. “You could pass the guys who were set up for long-runs on the straightaways but some of those other guys, like the JGR guys, they were stupid fast. We got back in traffic and just really fought the handling of this thing and got stuck around fourth place. I’m really proud of this team. This Toyota Supra was awesome today, and glad we got to take it to Victory Lane.”
JR Motorsports was well represented with three cars finishing inside the top five. Noah Gragson finished third and Jeb Burton had a career-best fourth-place finish. Justin Haley scored a top-five finish and earned enough points to become the ninth driver to clinch a playoff spot heading into the final race of the regular season.
Both series will now head to Las Vegas for next weekend’s races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.