Kevin Harvick was the dominant car all day Sunday in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
He wasn’t about to give that up on a green-white-checkered finish with a chance to clinch a spot in the championship on the line.
Harvick blew past Ryan Blaney on the overtime restart and secured his spot in the championship by defending his title in the race.
Harvick led 177 laps on a day when the other two members of the Big Three struggled. Martin Truex Jr. started at the back and ended up ninth and Kyle Busch finished 17th on a day when each of the three drivers was looking to secure a championship spot.
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Harvick and Joey Logano will make up half of the championship field in two weeks in Florida while the other two spots will be set next weekend in Arizona. It’ll be the fourth time in the last five years the 2014 series champion will go to Florida with a shot at the title.
Harvick left no doubt he was the car to beat Sunday. Harvick, who started third, won the first stage and then followed it up with a win in the second stage. Blaney was the only challenger he really had, and that only came on restarts.
After restarting on the inside on two late-race restarts, Harvick went up top for the overtime restart and secured his eighth win of the season.
“You never want to lose those types of days,” said Harvick, who has finished in the top three in six of the last 10 races at TMS. “Obviously Blaney had a good restart and we’re not taking the bottom anymore. We’re going to take the top and see what happens and obviously it worked out a little bit.
“For whatever reason we’ve run well on the old-style racetrack [at TMS] and the new racetrack. Since they repaved the place it’s been lights out. We could have won every race here. It’s come around to the things we do with our cars. Today was one of those days it went with the speed and everybody executed really well. It’s a good time of year to have that all come around.”
Harvick started on the inside on restarts on laps 303 and 311. He cleared Blaney on the first restart but lost the lead on the second one and had to track Blaney down to take the lead back. That put him in position to line up where he wanted on the final restart after a Joey Gase accident brought out the eighth caution of the race.
Harvick knew that Blaney would have to be perfect on the restart to beat him and once Blaney’s left tires clipped the apron Harvick was off to his second career win at TMS.
Polesitter Blaney knew he was in trouble when Harvick started on the inside.
“I figured he wouldn’t make that move three times,” said Blaney. “We almost caught him the first restart up top and then I did on the second one. I kind of figured he’d take the top. The 42 [Kyle Larson] gave me a heck of a push but I didn’t get far enough ahead of the 4 in Turn 1.
“If he would have went in there on my right rear I would have been OK but we went in side-by-side and if I sailed off as fast as he did I would have sailed off and wrecked us both. It just didn’t happen.”
It did happen for Harvick, who won’t change plans for next weekend’s race in Phoenix despite already being locked into the championship after his 45th career win.
“That’s how you control your destiny the most is to get in Victory Lane,” Harvick said. “It’s guaranteed if you get to Victory Lane and you’re still in it [the playoffs]. We’ve put ourselves in scenarios where we’ve had backs to the wall and had to play at a high level. It’s fun to see a whole day come together.”
Harvick was one of the few playoff contenders who was able to put his day together. Logano finished third a week after securing his playoff spot. Chase Elliott (sixth), Kurt Busch (seventh), Aric Almirola (eighth) and Truex also finished in the top 10.
Of those only Logano was a factor as he led 54 laps. No other Chase driver led Sunday.