Who’s in the headline – For the first time, in what has seemed to be the history of racing, a Ford passed a Toyota on track with pure speed. That is fake news, but it has seemed that way for much of the season. On Sunday, Kevin Harvick chased down Martin Truex Jr and passed him on the track without the benefit of a restart. That move propelled Harvick to the victory at Texas Motor Speedway, and a seat as one of the four title contenders at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick won the first stage of the day, in addition to the race win, while Kyle Larson was the top finisher in Stage 2.
What happened – Kurt Busch won the pole with a new 1.5-mile track record, but didn’t lead a lap during the event. Denny Hamlin led the opening 46 laps before Larson passed him. Green-flag pit stops ultimately led to several lead changes and Larson back at the point. Harvick passed Larson on lap 70 and led the final 15 laps of the stage.
The No. 42 car was the dominant car of the second stage, and scored the bonus playoff point for winning that stage. Unfortunately for Larson he had a pit road miscue that cost him track position and he ultimately wrecked out of the race trying to get back to the point.
In the final stage, Truex led for the first time in the race. He proceeded to lead 107 of the final 150 laps. Unfortunately, the No. 78 team lost the handle on his car and ultimately lapped traffic hindered him, which let Harvick catch up to him. It took 15 laps from the time Harvick caught Truex to pass him, but in the end he did.
Why you should care – The two biggest takeaways from Texas are that the coronation of Truex as the season champion might need to be put on hold. Not to say it won’t happen, but Superman’s cape just fell off. The other takeaway is that, barring a surprising turn of events at Phoenix, Chevrolet will not have a contender for the title in Homestead. One other observation that pertains to 2018 is that this aero package, for the most part, will be the same for next season. The teams have managed to regain the vast majority of downforce that was taken away, and the horrid animal that is aero push, it’s back with a vengeance. NASCAR better do something next season or the number of legitimate, on-track passes for the lead on intermediate tracks next year will be countable on one hand.
What your friends are talking about – All season fans have been bombarded, ad-nauseam with Dale Earnhardt Jr. retirement commercials, statistics and retirement presents. Matt Kenseth announced this week that he’s going to step away from the Cup Series for at least the beginning of 2018. While many tried to couch it as a decision, in reality it is a situation. Kenseth could certainly drive for a team that can’t run for wins and have a job in the Cup series for years to come. However, he’s a former champion that wants to compete for more titles or is content to walk away. For a driver who has been tied to Earnhardt for his entire career (Kenseth and Earnhardt started together in Cup and Kenseth beat Earnhardt for Rookie of the Year), it is a shame that he isn’t being afforded the same fond farewell. Hopefully, NASCAR will make this season’s awards banquet extra special for the 2003 champion.
The quiet boys of NASCAR are speaking up. Last week it was Chase Elliott who showed some rarely seen passion after he was unceremoniously wrecked by Hamlin. This week Larson was visibly angry about the failure of his team to execute when they had a car that was capable of winning. Larson has fallen on the sword for some time when miscues out of his control have occurred. This weekend it seemed as though the frustration finally boiled over and Larson had to struggle mightily to not explode with displeasure.
Speaking of frustration, the driver who has been grinning like the Cheshire cat for much of the season was none too pleased after being straight up beaten by Harvick. While Truex didn’t blame them for his loss, he did have some unkind words for a couple of his fellow competitors. “The No. 6 [Trevor Bayne] and some other dummy were racing side-by-side.” Lapped traffic is almost always a factor at some point of a race and winners know they have to deal with it. It is still easy to cast some blame their way when you are beaten.
Unfounded rumors are floating around the garage that Danica Patrick could be headed to Roush Fenway Racing in 2018. Her boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently drives for RFR. The organization has three charters and is currently leasing one to JTG Daugherty Racing. Steve Newmark, the president of RFR, stated this weekend that there are no openings at RFR so there is no place for Patrick to land.
Aric Almirola will fill Patrick’s No. 10 seat in 2018 with Smithfield on board as a primary sponsor. Smithfield was reported to have a clause in their agreement with Richard Petty Motorsports that prevented them from moving with Almirola to SHR. The company is reported to be entering into a partnership for 2018 that will help ease the strained relations that developed when the planned departure was first announced.
Who is mad – As mentioned above, Larson was fired up in his post-crash interview. Larson had a car that was capable of getting to the front and actually passing the leader, a true rarity in the recent Intermediate races. A pit road miscue put him back in the pack and that ultimately led to his attempt to run the high line. Slipping into the gray area of the track led to a brush with the wall and then a fiery crash that ended his day. Larson very well may be a champion in this sport, but it is going to take greater focus by everyone involved with his team to make it happen.
The No. 48 team has not looked like their typical “Turn it on for the Playoffs” selves this year. During the first stage, Jimmie Johnson developed a vibration that he could not ride out to the end of the stage. Coming in to replace four tires put Johnson two laps down. A decision to pit rather than take a wave-around after that eventually put him position where he went a third lap down. The tone of the teams’ radio conversations seemed defeated throughout the race. In the end, it will all come down to Phoenix. A win is the only way that he makes it to Homestead with a shot at title number eight.
Who is happy – Ryan Blaney scored a sixth-place finish Sunday and put the No. 21 car 22 points below the cutoff for Homestead. While being on the wrong side of the line is not where any contender wants to be, the position is not insurmountable. Blaney scored points in the two stages today and has been stout during this entire playoff run. Phoenix is going to be a wild event most likely, but Blaney led a bunch of laps there in the spring and a win would not be a shock.
Brad Keselowski had a tire go down on lap 1 after contact from Kyle Busch. He found himself in 39th position, two laps down. Through, grit, determination, strategy and timely caution flags, he fought his way back to the lead lap and ultimately came home with a top-five finish. While a myriad of things could potentially occur in the desert, going into the race with a 19-point cushion over fifth place makes the nights leading up to the race a little more restful.
When the checkered flag flew:
For the 37th time in 608 career starts, Kevin Harvick was victorious in a Cup series race.
This is Harvick’s second triumph of 2017.
Harvick’s win at Texas Motor Speedway was the first of his career at the facility.
On the All-Time wins list, Harvick is ranked 21st in a tie with Bobby Isaac. He is one behind Matt Kenseth for 20th.
Martin Truex Jr. came home as the runner-up Sunday.
This is Truex’s 10th top-two finish of the season and third in a row.
Truex has finished in the top two at Texas twice in his career.
In the All-Time rankings, Truex is tied with Jamie McMurray, Neil Bonnett and Davey Allison for 59th.
Rounding out the podium was Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin’s third-place finish is his 90th of his career.
The finish ties Hamlin with Jim Paschal for 28th on the All-Time list.
At Texas Hamlin has finished in the top three four times in his career.
For the season Hamlin has five podium runs.
Rookie of the Race was Erik Jones. This is the 14th time Jones has received this honor in 2017. Daniel Suarez has won the award 14 times this season, while Ty Dillon has snagged the honor four times. Gray Gaulding has been bestowed the award once.
The victory for Kevin Harvick locks him into one of the final four playoff spots in the season finale at Homestead. The win gives him five additional playoff points, but they mean nothing at this point as those points have no bearing on the championship round. Martin Truex Jr. is also locked into one of the final four playoff positions by virtue of his point lead over fifth-place Denny Hamlin. It is mathematically impossible for Truex to fall below fourth place no matter what happens at Phoenix. Kyle Busch was the first driver locked in thanks to his victory in Martinsville last weekend. The eight drivers who are left to contend for the title, their rank, points, and playoff points as we head into race two of round three of the playoffs:
- Martin Truex Jr. – 4168 – 69
- Kyle Busch – 4118 – 42
- Kevin Harvick – 4112 – 23
- Brad Keselowski – 4079 – 28
- Denny Hamlin – 4092 – 14
- Ryan Blaney – 4089 – 9
- Chase Elliott – 4062 – 6
- Jimmie Johnson – 4060 – 17
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
In another follow the leader intermediate race, the action was active in the pack and all but non-existent at the front outside of restarts. The final pass for the lead wouldn’t have happened were it not for lapped traffic. The intensity of an elimination race added some excitement but at the end of the day it was a snoozer. This one gets two lukewarm No Limits Checkered Past beers from Audacity Brew House.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The penultimate race of the season takes place at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday, Nov. 12. Race coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The race can also be viewed on the NBCSports App. The race can be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com, and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
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