In what seemed inevitable since the season began, Kevin Harvick officially punched his ticket into the Championship 4 with an overtime victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ AAA Texas 500 on Sunday (Nov. 4) at Texas Motor Speedway.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick joins Team Penske’s Joey Logano as drivers running for the title, ensuring that at least one championship driver will make it to Homestead-Miami Speedway on points.
Logano’s teammate Ryan Blaney started on the pole with a speed of over 200 mph, but Harvick easily won both stages, though he had to battle with Blaney on the final restart in order to get the victory.
Blaney was the runner-up, followed by Logano, while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones was the top Toyota in fourth and Kyle Larson was Chevrolet’s top driver, finishing fifth in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott, SHR teammates Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola, Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. and Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon.
Though he only completed 287 of the race’s 337 laps in the No. 97 Toyota, David Starr managed to finish the first Cup race in Obaika Racing’s history, as the part-time organization has competed in the XFINITY Series but never made a Cup race before this weekend.
There were 16 lead changes among seven different drivers, and eight cautions in total.
Harvick now has eight wins, three poles, 21 top fives, 27 top 10s, 18 stage wins and over 1,800 laps led this season. That is unbelievably dominant, but even more so when you consider that all four SHR cars made it into the Round of 8 and have totaled a combined 12 wins, eight poles, 23 stage wins, 39 top fives, 78 top 10s and roughly 2,400 laps led.
Contact on the opening lap with SHR’s Clint Bowyer basically ended Denny Hamlin‘s day before it really began, relegating the No. 11 to a 30th-place, six laps down. It was the fifth finish outside the top 10 for the longest-tenured JGR driver since the playoffs began and his fifth finish in the 30s this season. In the past four races at Texas, Hamlin’s finishes are 25th, third, 34th (DNF) and 30th.
In a year where the Chevrolet teams in general have been dreadful, Larson has managed to nab three poles, 11 top fives and 18 top 10s in his CGR Camaro despite four DNFs and a teammate, Jamie McMurray, averaging a 19th-place result with only two top fives and seven top 10s along with five DNFs. How hot could Larson be if he had replaced Tony Stewart at SHR?
Matt DiBenedetto‘s disappointing 2018 season continued this weekend, as the No. 32 Go FAS Racing Ford exited the race early due to crash damage, DiBenedetto’s seventh DNF this season. His average finish is 27.2, and the past five races he’s run 27th, 30th, 23rd, 36th and 38th. Still, he has managed six top 20s this season, and next year should improve with DiBenedetto’s switch to Leavine Family Racing with JGR support.
Austin Dillon has had a forgettable season despite winning the Daytona 500 in February, but since the playoffs began, he’s really kicked things up a notch. Not counting a crash at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL or a broken part at Martinsville Speedway, the results for the No. 3 since the second Las Vegas Motor Speedway race include finishes of 11th, sixth, seventh, 17th, 11th and 10th. For the season, he has two top fives and seven top 10s.
Trevor Bayne‘s Cup career might have ended at the same track where it began. He finished 21st in his last start in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Ford after beginning his career with a 17th-place run for Wood Brothers Racing as a 19-year-old in 2010. In between, he won the 2011 Daytona 500 and led 71 laps, achieving five top fives and 16 top 10s in 187 starts.
In 21 races this year, he had a best finish of 11th in the Bristol night race, an average finish of 24th and six DNFs, finishing on the lead lap four times.
Paint Scheme of the Week
Kurt Busch’s No. 41 was sponsored this week by State Water Heaters, which is notable because that paint scheme hasn’t changed at all since Busch joined the team in 2013, being simply an orange version of the red Haas Automation colors his Chevy wore that year. No matter the colors, this design is the best Busch’s had in his time with SHR, with the possible exception of the Monster Energy-dominant scheme he’s run the past few years, especially when it has the lime green playoff trim on the splitter/spoiler.
Other notable paint scheme-related trivia: This is the second time that Bubba Wallace has been sponsored by the NASCAR Racing Experience, which feels slightly wrong somehow. Should the league itself be involved in sponsoring drivers?
Also, David Ragan‘s No. 38 was sponsored by EarthWater this week, which previously sponsored BK Racing before the team was sold. So technically, since Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing charter, it hasn’t switched organizations, but it’s still interesting that EarthWater has sponsored multiple teams. Also, Ragan was sponsored for one race in the summer by Performance Plus Motor Oil, which typically sponsors the Roush Fenway No. 6.
The next-to-last race of the season is upon us, as everyone from all three national series travels to ISM Raceway in Phoenix. Normally this is Harvick’s playground, but with the reconfiguration of the track since the spring race and his win at Texas already locking him into the championship, Elliott might be a dark horse to go with after finishing second in this race last fall. Elliott’s never finished worse than 12th in his Cup career at the track.
Kyle Busch and either Kurt Busch or Elliott will be the final two drivers to make up the quartet running for the title.
In the Camping World Truck Series, GMS Racing teammates Johnny Sauter and Justin Haley are locked into the title race. They’ll be joined in Miami by Brett Moffitt of Hattori Racing Enterprises and ThorSport Racing’s Grant Enfinger.