Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Michigan: Kevin Harvick, Sorry for Doubting You

What happened?

Kevin Harvick ran away with the lead on the final restart of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, earning his first win of 2022 on Sunday, Aug. 7. Bubba Wallace finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney to round out the top five in the Firekeepers Casino 400.

With this victory, Harvick snapped a winless streak of 65 races and earned Ford its eighth straight victory at Michigan.

How did it happen?

In a flurry of pit stop strategies that focused on track position and fuel mileage over tire wear, it appeared the race was setting up to be Hamlin, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez and Christopher Bell fighting out front with 50 laps to go.

However, after Chastain and Suarez pitted early during a green flag run, the teammates rejoined the leading Toyotas one lap down in a fight to gain more track position as Bell and Hamlin still had to pit.

Then, while attempting to pass the No. 20 on the outside, Chastain was involved in a crash with Bell that brought out the race’s final caution.

And no, it actually wasn’t the Melon Man’s fault this time.

With the Trackhouse Racing Team cars trapped a lap off the pace, Hamlin only had to have a clean pit stop under caution to retain his lead. He did not.

With all four contenders out of position to win, it was down to Harvick, who had hovered around the top 10 the whole day, and pole sitter Wallace on the front row to duke it out for the final 35 laps.

While Wallace gave it his best effort, Harvick received a push from Logano that sent him out in front of the No. 23. From then on, Harvick was on rails, leaving both Logano and Wallace stranded a whole 4.5 seconds behind him.

Even after Wallace got back around the Team Penske Ford, there was no catching The Closer.

Who stood out?

With all four cars qualifying in the top 10, it was a day that had the stage set for a Joe Gibbs Racing victory in the backyard of its rival car manufacturers.

While they still didn’t get the glory, it was actually 23XI Racing that carried the Toyota banner in the end with both cars finishing inside the top 10.

After Wallace earned his first career pole on Saturday, the Alabaman led 22 laps on the way to his fourth consecutive top-10 result and his third top five in the last four races. Despite the recent success, however, Wallace clearly was looking for a win to lock himself into an increasingly more exclusive playoff season.

On the other side of the 23XI shop, however, Ty Gibbs had no worries of Cup Series playoffs in his mind.

Instead, he was likely more than happy to walk away with his first career Cup top 10 after running 10th in just his third series start.

Only one day after winning his fifth NASCAR Xfinity Series race of the season, Gibbs started 11th and was even able to lead his first two career Cup Series laps while continuing to fill in for the injured Kurt Busch.

See also
Xfinity Breakdown: Noah Gragson Shines Early, Ty Gibbs Takes the Victory at Michigan

While 23XI had a pair of great results on Sunday, their boss certainly wanted more out of his own result.

Who fell flat?

Hamlin may have finished third, but for a majority of Sunday, it was the No. 11 team’s race to lose.

Which, you know, it did.

In a race that seemed too difficult for any one car to march their way through the field, Hamlin seemed to be that one oddball that was able to overcome a bad pit stop and race his way back into the top five, time after time. Hamlin led 38 laps, finished second in stage one and then won stage two while the field traded track position during their constant juggling of pit strategy during cautions.

Heading into the final pit stop, it was indeed Hamlin with the upper hand over the rest of the field. Not only did he have the best track position – the lead – but he was also on the best pit strategy with seemingly the fastest car. The No. 11 was well on its way to its third win of 2022.

Then that one pit crew member had to go over the wall to grab that darn tire.

It certainly isn’t the first time a pit penalty has cost the JGR team a win and, let’s be honest, it probably won’t be the last.

Hamlin still leads all drivers in 2022 in pit road penalties with a whopping 31 infractions incurred so far this year. Granted, Sunday wasn’t the driver’s fault, but more of a slip of the mind for one crew member that wanted to help how he could.

But rules are rules, and everybody on the team should know them. Some penalties may seem silly at times – it is here – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t enforced. Hamlin did rebound from the back of the field, like he had all day, to finish third, but it could have easily been another victory for the Virginian in 2022.

What did this race prove?

Happy has still got it.

A few months ago, I made the bold argument on Thinkin’ Out Loud that Harvick may never win a Cup race again. Even among the top 10 results that the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was putting up almost every week, there was the possibility that Harvick could go the way of Jimmie Johnson: being a once great championship-contending driver slowly fading into obscurity before eventually retiring with no wins to show for his waning years in NASCAR racing.

Instead, at 46 years of age, Harvick may go the way of Jeff Gordon, who earned his final NASCAR race victory only four races before his final full-time Cup finish, capping off his legendary racing career on top.

That doesn’t mean he’s about to retire, but it does mean that even when it appears Happy may be reaching his final few years in competition, he still has the talent to win races at NASCAR’s top level, and Sunday showed that.

The final restart with 35 laps to go on Sunday set up Harvick to take the lead, sure, but not necessarily the win too. Instead, the win came from Harvick alone.

When put up against the hard-charging Toyota of Wallace and the Fords of Logano and Blaney, The Closer still pulled ahead by over four seconds on the rest of the field. It was a margin that likely no other leader had built the entire day.

Even after Wallace cleared Logano, he still couldn’t match Harvick’s lap times and run down the SHR driver despite a seemingly faster car.

Harvick’s shining moment also came at a moment he needed it most. With the playoffs on the horizon, a few tracks left in his favor and an over 100-point deficit to the cut line, Happy scored a win that all but guarantees a playoff bid.

 

Better than last time?

For the second week in a row, statistically speaking, there was a decline in NASCAR competition.

With 10 leaders and 15 lead changes Sunday, it seemed the leader was able to get away with more than they could last year, as there were 11 leaders and 21 lead changes in 2021.

You could physically see it, too. Harvick may have pulled away by over four seconds in the final stint of the race, but even if Wallace had run down the driver of the No. 4, it’s very unlikely he could have passed him with no help. It’s another case in NASCAR of clean air triumphing over dirty.

In fact, it really seemed out of those 15 lead changes, very few of them were during green flag conditions that didn’t involve a leader pitting. The ones that did happen on track were completed with help from a teammate.

Yet despite all of that, Sunday still feels like a success, doesn’t it?

Even if the racing for the lead was lackluster, midfield battles kept the NBC cameramen busy and the fans at the track entertained.

And there were plenty of fans at the track to be entertained. That’s good for the sport.

Paint scheme of the race

Wallace wasn’t the only driver with ties to a NBA legend in the field, and no, that’s not referring to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in Brad Daugherty’s No. 47 car, either.

This time, actually, there was a third driver in the form of Chris Buescher.

It may not be the best paint scheme RFK Racing has delivered in 2022. Heck, it’s probably not even in the top five, but any form of charity is good to see on a race car from time to time.

This one, however, went a little beyond in terms of marketing. Not only did it bring eyes to the Lebron James Family Foundation, but it also brought eyes to NASCAR itself, as the four-time NBA Champion decided to promote the car on his Twitter to the audience of some 51 million followers.

Now that’s some good promoting.

What’s next?

NASCAR returns to a short track for the first time in four months. The Cup Series travels to Richmond Raceway, making its second visit to the Virginia-based 3/4-mile oval this season. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 5:50 p.m. ET with the Federated Auto Parts 400 being televised live on USA Network on Sunday, Aug. 14 at 3 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share this article

10 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
DoninAjax

The “Competition Caution” meant a double file restart that didn’t make it to the backstretch before a demo derby wreck. Just what NA$CAR wanted and will use in ads for years.

The 23 got a free pass and was on the rear bumper of the 16 when he had his spin.

Dale EarnHog

If you’re insinuating Bubba wrecked Gragson, you’re dead wrong. There was a car in between them when Gragson spun.

DoninAjax

If you’re insinuating that I am insinuating there is probably a reason for that.

kb

Harvick has ALWAYS been a D I C K. This race, hmmm. Again hmmm. Whatever. Time will tell.

DoninAjax

Not to worry! He has Delana to protect him.

Jeremy

This race must have been a giant let-down for everyone, based on the lackluster comments this week. I figured with the 2 least liked guys finishing 1-2 there would be more spice in the comments section. But I guess it’s hard to accuse NA$CAR of favoritism towards Hendricks / Toyota when Harvick wins with a Ford (and a non-Penske Ford at that!). Although, I wonder how much $ Ford gave the France family for a win at their “home” track? lol

Dale EarnHog

Just because people you dislike finish well or perform poorly shouldn’t affect your opinion on the race as a whole in terms of racing product. The racing was great, and while yes, I lmay like a race more based on the opinions I have towards drivers and their performance, if a driver I dislike wins, it’s not automatically the worst race ever and vise versa.

JD in NC

Jeremy, don’t forget Hamlin in 3rd. I think he falls squarely in the disliked driver category.

Jeremy

And Logano in 4th isn’t exactly winning many popularity contests either.

The more I think of it, the more angry I get! NA$CAR should make sure nothing like this ever happens again! lol

Last edited 1 month ago by Jeremy
Kevin in SoCal

I’ve been a Kevin Harvick fan since Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart retired.

I’m happy he won, but yeah I also noticed the lack of comments this week.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com