FORT WORTH, TX – The Championship 4 is starting to look a lot like the final round of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. As we head to the final race of the Round of 8, two of the four spots to Homestead are taken by drivers that were in the final round last year.
Last weekend, Martin Truex Jr. earned his third straight trip to the final round and fourth in the last five years with a victory at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. This weekend, Kevin Harvick took his No. 4 Ford to victory lane for the third straight year at the Texas Motor Speedway with a dominating victory in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
Harvick, started on the pole and led a race-high 119 of 334 laps, but the win wasn’t as easy as it sounds. See, he went off strategy early on and even had a pit road penalty just past the midway mark when his team faked out everyone by taking fuel only instead of tires. The problem was, a tire sat on his pit box which is a penalty for pit equipment not being used.
Harvick, had to go to the rear of the field. It didn’t keep him down. He quickly charged back through the field and on Lap 251, passed his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate of Aric Almirola for the lead. He’d only give up the lead for his final pit stop of the day and got the lead back on Lap 314. Harvick, would never look back en route to his 49th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, tying his team owner Tony Stewart for 12th on the all-time wins list.
The victory, puts Harvick into the Championship 4 for the fifth time in six years as he will go back to Homestead in two weeks with a shot at this year’s championship.
Harvick’s last win came at Indy in the regular season finale as this was also his 11th straight top 10 finish on the 1.5-mile track, most all-time too.
His teammate Almirola would bring his No. 10 Ford home runner-up for his third straight top 10 finish at Texas. The Florida native also earned just his second top five finish since mid-March.
Daniel Suarez gave SHR a 1-2-3 finish in his No. 41 Ford with a third place result. He was also third back in March too.
Joey Logano got his first playoff top five finish in his No. 22 Ford with a fourth place run while Alex Bowman rounded out the top five in his No. 88 Chevrolet.
The race was a wild one with 11 cautions for 56 laps. It started early with Chase Elliott getting into the Turn 2 SAFER barrier just eight laps into the race. He’d finish 32nd, 22 laps down and is 78 points behind the cutoff spot with one race remaining in the third round.
On Lap 80, Denny Hamlin got loose exiting Turn 4 and got into the infield grass. It damaged his No. 11 Toyota enough for a lengthy repair. He’d finish 28th, six laps down and falls from +23 in the standings to -20. He likely has to win next weekend in Phoenix as well.
Overall, the PJ1 traction compound proved more bad than good on Sunday. The grip levels never came around during the day portion of the race which caused several on track incidents. It was ironic that the grip added to the track was slippery.