Harvick and his No. 4 unstoppable at Texas
By Rick Minter/ Andrews Mc Meel Syndication
As the Monster Energy Cup Series drivers head into the final two races of the 2019 season, the year’s dominant driver is leading the points standings and coming off a powerful performance in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Kevin Harvick scored his league-leading eighth win of the season, and the 45th of his career, with a near-perfect drive. He won both of the opening 85-lap stages and led 177 of 377 laps, including 38 of the final 45 circuits, to take the victory over Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson.
Playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. took positions six through nine, respectively, with Austin Dillon completing the top 10.
Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who with Harvick make up the Cup circuit’s “Big Three” drivers this season, both suffered numerous setback in Sunday’s race, but were able to hold their spots among the top three in the standings, mostly because of the playoff points they’ve accumulated over the course of the season.
Truex recovered from having to start in the rear due to an engine change, loose wheels during the race and a pit-road penalty to finish ninth and remain third in the points standings heading into this weekend’s race at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
Busch also fell laps down due to a loose wheel and a speeding penalty. He rejoined the lead lap near the end of the race but finished 17th.
The bottom four playoff contenders are in must-win positions heading into Phoenix if they want to be among the final four at Homestead on Nov. 18.
Tony Stewart, who co-owns the Stewart-Haas Racing team that still has all four of its drivers — Harvick, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer — in the playoffs, said he’s not surprised how the playoff field looks at this point.
“The reality is we knew, everybody knew, when they started the playoffs that those first three spots were already for the most part taken, unless they had a natural disaster happen,” he said. “From our standpoint now, we got one [Harvick] in. There’s one more race left. We’ve got one more opportunity to get one more of those three in.”
While many feel that Harvick’s domination on Sunday indicates that he’ll be the driver to beat in the finale at Homestead, Stewart is more cautious in his approach.
“I don’t even know how you have a favorite,” he said. “When you think of the reality of what Homestead is, you’re loading all your chips into one race. You never know what can happen. There are still 40 cars in the race, four of them racing for a championship, and 36 guys that can make a mistake and change the outcome of the event.”
But, Stewart added, Harvick is plenty capable of winning his second Cup title.
“I like the fact that we got Kevin Harvick there,” he said. “That’s a guy that — I don’t care who he’s up against — that’s a guy you kind of want with the ball in the bottom of the ninth.”
At Texas, a track similar in length and shape to Homestead, Harvick showed that he and his team have the speed to win the title.
His only real challenge in the closing laps came from Blaney, the runner-up, who was able to briefly wrestle the lead from Harvick on the next-to-last restart but was unable to keep it.
Harvick quickly motored by him on the final restart to seal the win.
Harvick said he raced with the same intensity at Texas that he will at Homestead in two weeks.
“We swing for the fence every week,” he said. “The only way you can control anything is to win. …
“When you go to Homestead, you’re going to have to win the race, most likely. Every year the champion has won the race. You have to have a winning mentality to approach the week in and week out.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart celebrates with his winning driver in Victory Lane at Texas.