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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Pace Laps: 1 More Race to Set the NASCAR Championship Fields

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Kevin Harvick Finally Gets Over The Hump

On paper, Kevin Harvick has been the man to beat this year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He’s been first or second in the standings for the last five weeks and his 44 playoff points entering Sunday’s (Nov. 4) AAA Texas 500 led all drivers. Add in seven regular season wins, all three Stewart-Haas Racing teammates making the Round of 8 along with him and it’s easy to see why Harvick spent much of the year as championship favorite.

But while Harvick should have been the guy people were chasing during the playoffs, it didn’t actually feel like that was happening. A Las Vegas wreck started a yo-yo seven-race postseason where his average finish was just 15.1. It’s a number that feels more Alex Bowman-like, a midrange driver than someone who’s outright dominated individual playoff races.

Harvick, as has happened often during the past few seasons at SHR, had a habit of beating himself. There was a speeding penalty at Kansas Speedway that wiped out a potential win two weeks ago. Earlier that month at Dover, his crew got careless and a lugnut flew into a valve stem and knocked it off. Another victory dissolved before their eyes, gift-wrapping two trophies for young Chase Elliott instead. Add in a weird Talladega ending, one where Harvick needed a last-minute stop for gas in overtime, and you could argue the No. 4 team left three wins on the table.

What they needed was a complete race, a reminder of why they’ve established themselves as the favorite. Texas, the track where Harvick started his latest resurgence last fall, provided the perfect opportunity. Both driver and team fought through adversity, losing track position after the second stage to a litany of two-tire stops. At one point, he was over four seconds behind a Team Penske trio threatening to run away with the race.

But Harvick took a track that was impossible to pass and made some openings where there wasn’t. Then, during a few late restarts, he put away pesky Ryan Blaney while reminding observers why they call him “The Closer.”

Two straight wins in the fall race at Texas put Harvick in Homestead-Miami Speedway’s Championship 4 a second straight year.

“It’s fun to see a whole day come together,” he said afterward. “We’ve had a lot of really fast cars in the playoffs here.  It’s just the days haven’t come together.  Sometimes you go through phases like that.  Luckily, we’ve scored a lot of stage points and kept ourselves in the game.  That’s what you got to do, just hang around, survive and advance.”

Harvick has officially done that. Next week, despite problems during Sunday’s race at Texas, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are favored to join him. We’ll see which one of the Big Three is on top when it really counts.

But at the moment, it’s Harvick. The 2014 MENCS champion has regained his edge at the right time. – Tom Bowles

NEFF: FULL AAA TEXAS 500 POST-RACE ANALYSIS

CATANZARETI: FULL AAA TEXAS 500 RECAP

AAA TEXAS 500 RESULTS

XFINITY Series: Cole Custer Punches Ticket to Homestead, Christopher Bell & Justin Allgaier in Serious Trouble

It took 31 races, but Cole Custer finally found Victory Lane in 2018 after making a last lap pass on Tyler Reddick to secure a spot into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Custer had an up-and-down race at Texas, pacing the field for 16 laps, but it came down to the final circuit, where the No. 00 made a move inside Reddick down the backstretch. As Custer moved up the track to side draft, Reddick was moving down to do the same. The two bumped, yet carried on, as Custer was first to the finish line.

Austin Cindric finished in third, while John Hunter Nemechek and Justin Allgaier rounded out the top five. Despite a fifth-place finish, Allgaier enters the cutoff race at ISM Raceway needing to gain 12 points on Daniel Hemric. In March 2017, the NASCAR veteran snapped a five-year winless drought in the desert.

Allgaier entered the postseason with five wins this year. His counterpart, Christopher Bell, had four, picking up another two in the first round. But a 37th-place finish at Kansas, followed by a 32nd at Texas due to a wreck in stage three, has the No. 20 team on the outside looking in going to Phoenix.

Custer is a lock for Homestead. Reddick heads to Phoenix 20 points above the cut-line, as Elliott Sadler is +13 and Hemric +12. Allgaier is ranked fifth, 12 back. Matt Tifft enters the cutoff race -14, Bell -34 and Cindric -61. – Dustin Albino

MONGIELLO: FULL O’REILLY AUTO PARTS CHALLENGE POST-RACE RECAP

ALBINO: FULL O’REILLY AUTO PARTS CHALLENGE POST-RACE ANALYSIS

O’REILLY AUTO PARTS CHALLENGE RESULTS

Camping World Truck Series: Justin Haley Punches Ticket to Homestead With Texas Win

For the second time these playoffs, Justin Haley capitalized on Todd Gilliland’s misfortune to lock himself into the next round, and this time it means a spot in the Championship 4. The driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet took advantage of Gilliland’s dry fuel tank and cruised to a more than eight-second victory over second-place Ben Rhodes.

The third career win for the sophomore driver means GMS now has a 50-50 shot at winning the championship this year as teammate Johnny Sauter scored his sixth win of the season at Martinsville Speedway last weekend to lock himself into the Championship 4.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Haley said. “To get two Chevrolets — me and Johnny — back to back to Miami, that’s what we want. We’ve got a 50-percent chance of winning it.”

With one more shot at ISM Raceway in Phoenix next weekend to solidify their chance to run for the title, Brett Moffitt sits 22 points above the cut line, and Noah Gragson finds himself 18 markers to the good. Grant Enfinger is 18 points below, while Matt Crafton faces a 23-point deficit, which isn’t insurmountable but would take a little luck if he expects to point his way in.

Of course, there will be 26 other drivers looking to play spoiler next Friday night, meaning every point will matter, but without a victory by Enfinger and Crafton, you’re like looking at Moffitt and Gragson making up the rest of the Championship 4. – Beth Lunkenheimer

KOELLE: FULL JAGS METALS 350 RACE RECAP

LUNKENHEIMER: FULL JAGS METALS 350 POST-RACE ANALYSIS

JAG METALS 350 RESULTS

Sports Cars: IMSA Unveils 2019 Sporting Regulations

On Friday, IMSA released the new Sporting Regulations for the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Michelin Pilot Challenge.  While some changes that were already announced were included, there are some additional changes as well, mainly sparked by the creation of the WeatherTech Sprint Cup.

As already noted, the Prototype class will split into DPi and LMP2 for 2019.  The LMP2 class will be a Pro-Am class, similar to the European Le Mans Series.  A bronze or silver-rated driver must be in the car each weekend.  In addition, the amateur driver must qualify the car and start the race each weekend.  GT Daytona teams will also have the same rule.  Finally, both GT Daytona and LMP2 teams will have mandatory driver count rules.  For Sebring, Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen, a three-driver lineup with one pro is mandatory.  For the Rolex 24, four or five driver lineups are allowed.  In that lineup, you can have either one platinum driver and one gold driver, or two gold drivers in addition to amateur drivers.

There are also new testing restrictions.  DPi and GT Le Mans teams will be limited to eight private test days in 2019.  LMP2 and GT Daytona teams get only four.  The Roar Before the 24 the first weekend of January is the only open test of the year and will not count towards that number.  That said, GT Daytona teams will only participate in the first two days of the Roar test.

Finally, for the Michelin Pilot Challenge (formerly Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge), the cut down to just Grand Sport and TCR announced 15 months ago is still a go.  Michelin tires are now mandatory as Continental Tire has exited. The “leader lights” position displays currently in use in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be adopted.  Also, teams must mark their qualifying tires and start the race on them.  This has created some problems in the past, most notably when a couple of MINIs were sent to the rear of the field at Lime Rock in 2017. – Phil Allaway

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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4 comments

  1. Pesky Ryan Blaney? The kid has talent and once he figures out the restarts Harvick will be dealing with him many more times in the years to come. And knowing how Harvick is if he’s not winning it won’t be cordial.

  2. Actually during Harvicks whole career Jimmie Johnson has been the Real Closure. Some dumb fox broadcaster just hung the name on Kevin and the rest of the sheep followed along. No comparison in their two careers, not even close. JJ the Closure.