Who’s in the headline
Kevin Harvick has had the fastest car nearly every weekend this season. The Achilles heel for the team is that they routinely shoot themselves in the foot through pit road miscues. When they don’t, they dominate, which is what happened at Texas on Sunday.
Harvick led over half of the laps in the race, swept all three stages and, when the chips were down, drove it deeper into Turn 1 on the final restart than anyone else had all day long. The result was his series leading eighth victory of the season.
Ryan Blaney started on the pole with Clint Bowyer to his outside. By the exit of Turn 2 on lap one, Bowyer had killed any chance he had of winning the race and took Denny Hamlin with him when the two made contact and ultimately damaged tires on both of the cars. Blaney led the first 30 laps of the race until the competition caution. Harvick took two tires, along with others, and assumed the lead. He held the point for the next 99 laps, which took him through the end of stage one and 44 laps into stage two.
Joey Logano made a strategic move to try and long pit, hoping to trap Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and others laps down. He eventually pitted, handing the lead to Alex Bowman, who relinquished it to Darrell Wallace Jr. and eventually Jimmie Johnson before Harvick reclaimed the top spot with 10 laps to go in the stage. Logano and his teammate Brad Keselowski took two tires on the stage two caution and restarted on the front row for the final stage.
Keselowski led for 50 laps when the race went back green before pitting under caution and handing the lead to Blaney for one lap since he pitted beyond the start-finish line, and then his teammate Logano. Logano stayed on the point until lap 253 before he was passed by Harvick for the lead. Harvick led until lap 280 which started another round of green-flag stops. Harvick was followed at the point by Logano then Johnson before Harvick retook the point. After a caution on lap 306 Harvick lost the lead on the restart to Blaney, who beat the eventual race winner from the outside lane. Harvick chased down Blaney and eventually passed him on lap 318. A spin by Joey Gase, Daniel Suarez and AJ Allmendinger on lap 330, brought out a final caution and put Harvick through one more test. He restarted on the outside of the front row and drove well past anyone into Turn 1 to establish himself as the dominant car on the day.
Why you should care
Logano and likely Kyle Busch or Truex will make Homestead for sure, but they will be chasing Harvick when the green flag flies.
Harvick continues to bring the fastest cars to the race track and barring silly mistakes on pit road, can’t be stopped. The only way Harvick loses at Homestead is if they make a mental error on pit road or he is outrun by one of the other three drivers. The odds of them being outrun is minimal, so it will take a colossal failure for Harvick to fail to outrun everyone in the finals. Heading into Phoenix, unless one of the bottom four in the final eight pulls off an upset win the most likely result will be Harvick in another walkover and Kyle Busch and Truex pointing their way into the finals.
What your friends are talking about
The conspiracy theorists have to think that the checks from Hendrick Motorsports are bouncing left and right. Not only did the No. 48 team fail pre-race tech twice, it was incorrectly sent to the rear of the field for the start of the race.
During the race, NASCAR acknowledged the mistake but that did nothing to help the situation. The No. 48 had several more issues Sunday, so it most likely didn’t impact Johnson’s result. But it is still unacceptable for NASCAR officials to not be on the same page when setting the starting lineup.
The NBC folks are starting to use The Closer as the nickname for Harvick. The FOX folks have run that into the ground and it simply isn’t accurate. Harvick’s win Sunday was his 45th of his career. Harvick has 54 second-place finishes in his 644 career starts. If someone is The Closer, they get the job done more often than not. If someone has finished in the top two 99 times but more than half of those times they’ve come home in the first loser spot, they are not a closer.
Carl Edwards was spotted at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend thanks to being inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame. Edwards wouldn’t rule out coming back to racing but is clearly content with where his life is right now. He admitted he does miss driving the cars and truly misses many of the people. He does not watch the races or pay much attention because, if he was going to do that, he might as well get back involved in the sport.
NASCAR has rules that are designed to save teams money. One of those rules is to require teams to use sealed engines for a certain number of races each season. Sealed engines are supposed to save money because they have not been changed internally or updated. Full-time Cup teams have different rules from part-time Cup teams.
In a weird turn of events, Carl Long was declared illegal at Texas because he did not have a sealed engine to run. Long has been full-time since July and has been running as such. Unfortunately, since he did not run the full season, NASCAR is treating him as a part-time team. The end result is he has to run a sealed engine every three races and his sealed engines have all had issues so he doesn’t have one to run. He has more than enough starts with a sealed engine for a full-time team but, because of his part-time status, he won’t be able to race the remainder of the season.
Mary Hulman-George, daughter of Tony Hulman, was the Chairman of the Board Emeritus of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and passed away at the age of 83 over the weekend. She gave the command to start engines for the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 for most of the years since her father passed away. She was an incredibly philanthropic woman who oversaw much of the expansion of what IMS has become over the past few decades. Frontstretch sends thoughts, prayers and condolences to the Hulman and George families.
Fanatics is ending its NASCAR merchandise arrangement for the trackside tents that have been an abject disaster since they were introduced four years ago six years early. NASCAR merchandise, which used to showcase the individuality and originality of each team, has become a homogenized, predictable, stale offering that has resulted in lower than anticipated sales. The drop in attendance at tracks certainly has hurt merchandise sales, but the hideous offerings afforded to fans isn’t helping the situation either. The relationship with Fanatics e-commerce division will stay in place.
Who is mad
Hamlin is staring directly into his career-long winning streak coming to an end. Ever since he started in the Cup Series, he’s won a race every year. He and Johnson do not have wins yet this season, which leaves both of them in serious danger of losing their winning streak. Hamlin didn’t even get a chance on Sunday when Bowyer got out of shape in the first corner and nearly took both of them out of contention. There are only two games left to solve this issue. Hamlin and Johnson both need to score a touchdown this season in the next two races.
Speaking of Johnson, while his team has found enough ways to suck this season, it doesn’t need NASCAR’s help. Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus runs afoul of the inspection system from time to time, and Sunday was no exception. However, on the third pass through pre-race inspection the No. 48 was cleared. Somehow the message was passed along that the No. 48 had to start at the tail end of the field, even though they only failed tech twice. During the race, the judgment was acknowledged as incorrect by NASCAR but that didn’t help this team, which was already struggling having to start shotgun on the field. It didn’t look good for NASCAR and it helped cross another potential win off of Johnson’s chances to continue his career winning streak.
Who is happy
Erik Jones made the playoffs but only stuck around for a cup of coffee. Since being eliminated from the playoffs, the momentum has been on the upswing for Jones. Outside of the poor finish at Martinsville, since being eliminated Jones has three fourth-place finishes, including Sunday, and an eighth. Looking ahead to 2019, Jones has to be feeling good about the year ahead.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the best full-time driver at Roush Fenway Racing. He gets to continue trying to prove that with Ryan Newman in the house. As the season winds down, any good finish is a moment worth celebrating. Stenhouse came home in 11th on Sunday, after a lousy penalty call on his front tire changer who stumbled during a pit stop and had a tire slightly escape him. The tire was still within arms reach and the penalty seemed excessive. No matter for Stenhouse, he rebounded and managed to finish one spot outside of the top 10.
When the checkered flag flew
Kevin Harvick won his 45th race of his career in his 644th start.
This is Harvick’s eighth victory of 2018, most among all drivers.
Harvick’s triumph is his second in his career at Texas Motor Speedway
45 wins slots Harvick into 17th on the all-time wins list.
The runner-up finish for Ryan Blaney is his third top two of the season.
Blaney’s second-place run was his best career finish at Texas.
In his career, Blaney has crossed the line in second place three times in 124 starts
That will put Blaney in a tie for 105th place with 18 other drivers including Kenny Wallace, Elliott Sadler and Hershel McGriff.
Rounding out the podium was Joey Logano. This is Logano’s sixth podium finish in 2018.
For his career Logano has six top three runs at Texas.
All-Time Logano has grabbed 54 podium finishes in 361 career starts.
Logano is 45th on the all-time list all by himself.
William Byron won the Rookie of the Race award with his 16th place finish.
For the year, Byron’s 21 awards are eight ahead of Darrell Wallace Jr.’s 13.
Round three of the playoffs is almost complete. Eight drivers are eligible to win the title but only four will advance beyond this round. Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick and the first two to advance thanks to their victories at Martinsville and Texas, respectively. The playoff contenders are listed below with their associated points. The eight drivers eliminated from title contention are listed because they are still eligible to finish as high as fifth. Race winners are bolded and will automatically advance to the next round.
1) Kevin Harvick – 4143
2) Kyle Busch – 4128
3) Martin Truex Jr. – 4125
4) Joey Logano – 4119
5) Kurt Busch – 4100
6) Chase Elliott – 4086
7) Aric Almirola – 4068
8) Clint Bowyer – 4052
9) Ryan Blaney – 2283
10) Brad Keselowski – 2259
11) Denny Hamlin – 2220
12) Kyle Larson – 2211
13) Erik Jones – 2204
14) Jimmie Johnson – 2195
15) Alex Bowman – 2187
16) Austin Dillon – 2184
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
A dominating performance will usually rate a bit of a snoozer, but this one wasn’t all that boring. The racing surface combined with the tire combination made for some difficult driving conditions. In the end, it threw some different strategies at teams and resulted in some comers and goers, especially on restarts. The final two restarts added to the excitement as well. While we won’t get crazy, we’ll give this one three ice-cold Lone Star Beers from Lone Star Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week
Heading to the Desert Southwest for the penultimate week of the season the series heads to ISM Raceway. Coverage will be on NBC starting at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11. The race can also be seen on the NBC Sports app. If listening is your preference you can hear the action on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.