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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Kevin Harvick Sweeps Lucky Number 7

Who’s in the headline

Kevin Harvick has done it again. For the third time in his seven victories this year, he swept all three stages of the race. Harvick led 108 laps, won every stage and beat the competition into submission. He became the second driver in 20 years to have seven wins through 23 races in a season; Kyle Busch did the same in 2008. Darrell Wallace Jr. survived being pelted by the remains of whatever Ty Dillon ran over to finish 23rd and claim Rookie of the Race.

What happened

Joe Gibbs Racing started the weekend off strong, sweeping the front row and claiming three of the top four starting spots. Daniel Suarez had a very fast car too but made contact with the outside wall on his first qualifying lap, forcing him to abandon qualifying and settle for a rear of the field starting position. Denny Hamlin started on the pole and led the first 13 laps before Erik Jones spun exiting Turn 4. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart and held onto it through the competition caution. On the subsequent restart, Harvick, who started the race in the third position, took the top spot away from Busch and led through the remainder of the first stage.

Jimmie Johnson‘s team made a strategy call to put him up front on the stage two start but he was unable to hold off Kyle Busch for the lead. The caution flew for a spin by Ryan Newman on lap 76 and Johnson stayed on track once again. When the race restarted, Martin Truex Jr. went past Johnson and tried to make his fuel last through the end of the second stage. Unfortunately for Truex, he had to back off to save fuel and Harvick was able to pass him and claim the second stage as well.

The final stage started where stage two left off with Harvick out in front. Aside from the cycle of green-flag stops that saw four other drivers assume the point temporarily, Harvick led the entire final stage. The only moment of trepidation for him was when Austin Dillon came out of the pits in front of him after the green flag stops. It took a couple of laps for Harvick to get in front of Dillon, but once he was there, the cycle of stops concluded and Harvick owned the final 10 laps.

Why you should care

Everybody had a great time enjoying the win by Chase Elliott last weekend. This weekend, Harvick and Kyle Busch reminded us all that it is still their world and everyone else is just a squirrel trying to find a nut. The Fords dominated again with six of the top 10 and three of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars once again in the top 10. The Chevys may be making some gains but they’re still sucking hind teat. Kyle Busch might not have made it up to second at the end of the race but he’s still the car to beat next weekend.

What your friends are talking about

After last weekend’s race the head of NASCAR, Brian France was arrested in New York for driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance. There has been extensive discussion this week about the future of the sport and what should or should not happen. The one item that has not been brought up which is truly disturbing is that France made the conscious decision to drive while impaired. People make mistakes all of the time, and we all hope that he can get help with his issues, but willingly operating a motor vehicle while under the influence, when you easily have the means to have someone drive for you, shows the truly entitled mindset of the leader of the sport.

Time for the required complaint about competition cautions. Once again the series called for a competition caution in the first stage and many of the teams chose to change just two tires. The competition cautions are to check tire wear after a night when rain ‘washes’ the rubber off of the track. If it’s truly necessary to check tire wear, teams should be required to change all four tires. If the teams are not going to do it then the caution is not necessary so do away with them. To fix it, make a rule that teams changing four tires will all start in front of those changing two, while the two tire teams will start in front of those changing none.

Rumors surfaced this week that Kurt Busch may be on the move after 2019. While Busch would not confirm anything after qualifying this weekend, the word behind the scenes is that Busch is going to head to Chip Ganassi Racing and replace Jamie McMurray in the No. 1. McMurray’s deal ends this season and his performance has lagged behind his teammate Kyle Larson. Should Busch head to CGR, it would also open the possibility of him doing the double again, something that he’s stated he would like to pursue.

Ford Performance unveiled the 2019 Mustang that will compete in the Cup series next season this week. As part of the unveiling former champion Tony Stewart pulled himself away from doing lip-sync videos with the Columbus, Indiana police department and drove the car out in front of the masses. Looking at the challenges facing the Chevrolet teams this year with the new Camaro the Ford teams have to be focusing on getting their ducks in a row so that they don’t end up behind the eight ball to start next season.

The silly season for 2019 might be a little more active than people were imagining. Not only is there a possible shakeup at CGR, there are also rumors of a complete driver roster revamp at JTG Daugherty Racing. There are rumblings that the team might be looking at pulling in Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric to take over the rides of AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher. It will be interesting if they make a switch to a total youth movement for the small, underfunded organization.

Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) has announced a weather guarantee as part of its Fans First Initiative. Starting next weekend at Bristol, if a fan has a ticket for an event and it is delayed for weather but the fan cannot attend the makeup date, they can request a ticket voucher for an event at an SMI track that is scheduled for the next calendar year. They can also request a voucher for the same event the following season even if it falls outside of the calendar year. With the potential for weather impacting races more than any other sport, this is a great way to help fans feel comfortable investing in race tickets.

Who is mad

Truex’s team made a call to try and stretch its fuel to the end of stage two. Once the stage played out to the point that he had to give up the lead, it would have been a smart move to come in and get some fuel because a handful of regular points isn’t going to help the team when the playoffs get here. Instead, Truex ran out of fuel, pitted while pit road was closed and ended up a lap down. He did rebound to a 14th place finish, but his car was better than that and he could have scored a much better finish.

Ty Dillon isn’t a front runner most of the time, but the No. 13 continues to get better and they brought a brand new car to Michigan. He was having a decent run when he was fending off Wallace heading into Turn 3. He didn’t notice a large piece of debris in the middle of the track and ran over it. The debris ripped an oil line off of the car and ultimately sent him into the outside wall and ended his day. At the time of the incident no one had claimed to have lost whatever the piece of debris was so, for now, Dillon is angry with the world.

Who is happy

The Team Penske cars have been fast but not really race winning fast outside of the restrictor plate races. The No. 2 team had a loose wheel early in the race but they rebounded all of the way back to a second-place finish, which was best in class based on how fast the No. 4 was Sunday. The fact that the Fords at SHR have been fast all year, the Team Penske people know that they have the equipment to contend. A finish like this, with teammates both ending up in the top ten, speak loudly for the remainder of the season for Brad Keselowski.

With three laps to go, Austin Dillon was in a position to come home in the runner-up spot. Unfortunately, the car picked up a bad vibration coming out of Turn 4 with two laps to go, and he had to back off to make sure the car made it to the finish. It ended up crossing the line in fourth, which was his first top five since his win at Daytona. The Chevrolet teams are figuring out things more and more with the new Camaro and they just might make some noise in the playoffs.

When the checkered flag flew

Kevin Harvick won his 633rd career start for his 44th victory since he started in 2001.

Harvick has now been triumphant twice at Michigan International Speedway in 36 races.

For the 2018 season, Harvick has seven wins which is the most in a single season in his career.

This year is the second time in the last 20 years that a driver has seven race victories in the first 23 races of the season.

On the all-time list, Harvick has now tied with Bill Elliott for 17th .

Brad Keselowski managed to come home in the runner-up spot for his second top two of the year, and his first since Atlanta in February.

Keselowski has two second place finishes in his career at Michigan.

In his career, Keselowski has come home runner-up 23 times, which ties him for 35th on the all-time list with Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Dick Rathman.

Kyle Busch rounded out the podium on Sunday with his 14th top three of the season.

Busch has four career top threes at Michigan.

On the all-time list, Busch has come home on the podium 123 times which ranks him 15th.

Busch’s 14th top three finish of the season, leads all competitors

For the year, Byron’s 14 awards are six more than Darrell Wallace Jr’s eight.

Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott are the eight race winners in 23 races of 2018. At this point it is impossible for there to be more than 16 unique winners in the regular season, so all winners are locked into the playoffs based on winning a race, assuming they attempt the remaining races in the regular season. The drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):

1) Kyle Busch35

2) Kevin Harvick40

3) Martin Truex Jr.27

4) Kurt Busch – 2

5) Clint Bowyer10

6) Joey Logano – 7

7) Brad Keselowski – 4

8) Ryan Blaney – 4

9) Denny Hamlin – 2

10) Kyle Larson – 0

11) Chase Elliott – 8

12) Aric Almirola – 1

13) Erik Jones – 5

14) Jimmie Johnson – 0

15) Alex Bowman – 0

20) Austin Dillon – 5

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

For the second week in a row, it was a less than thrilling race for the Cup Series. Unlike last weekend we did not have a first time winner this weekend. It was a walkover by Harvick and there was literally zero suspense for the vast majority of the race. The end result is two lukewarm Lake Rat American Ales from Grand River Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

The last great coliseum hosts the most anticipated night race of the season on Saturday night. At 7:30 p.m. ET, the race coverage begins on NBCSN. It can also be watched streaming on the NBC Sports app. If you want to listen to the race turn your radio to your local PRN affiliate, www.goprn.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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6 comments

  1. Each week it becomes more difficult to remember that there is a race on.

  2. It’s pretty telling that there have been two comments as of 4:15 pm on all of the regular Monday columns combined.

    • Thought the same thing. Generally there’s comments left at “lunch time”.

      • Wouldnt it be interesting to compare the posts on a year to year basis? I know apples to oranges, but still might be entertaining.

  3. That was definitely a real yawner of a race.

    I agree, that all teams should have to change all 4 tires if there is a mandatory competition caution. They should vote on it at the driver’s meeting before the race. Of course we all know what’s really going on, an excuse for NASCAR to show some commercials and bunch up the field for an unnecessary restart. Duh.

  4. hum, seems like i didn’t miss much. same cast of characters up front, similar finish. have a feeling it will be the 18 winning next weekend at bristol.