Kevin Harvick celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
By LARRY LAGE AP Sports Writer
BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Kevin Harvick got his groove back, fittingly at one of his favorite tracks.
Harvick ended a 65- race winless drought that lasted nearly two years with his sixth victory at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.
“Good timing, for sure,” he said.
Harvick’s win shakes up the playoff race with just three races remaining in the regular season, leaving little time for drivers to earn a spot in the 16-car postseason, and gives a boost for a veteran that entered the weekend No. 17 in points.
“Everybody that doubted us doesn’t know us,” he said.
NASCAR has had 15 different Cup winners this season. If there are two new winners over the last three races, a driver with one win will be eliminated from the 16-car playoff with a tiebreaker based on points. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. are top-10 drivers in points, but they have not finished first to put their postseason positioning in peril.
Harvick’s No. 4 Ford pulled away from Bubba Wallace and the rest the field following a restart with 35 laps to go at the FireKeepers Casino 400. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver took advantage of clean air, helping him coast to his 59th victory, including five wins since 2018 on the two-mile oval in the Irish Hills region of southern Michigan.
Harvick had not won since claiming a NASCAR Cup Series postseason race on Sept. 19, 2020, at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It’s been a while,” he acknowledged. “Michigan has been a great place for us.”
Wallace finished second in his No. 23 Toyota — 2.9 seconds behind Harvick — followed by Denny Hamlin in his No. 11 Toyota.
“Seconds not good enough for the playoffs,” said Wallace, who needs to win one of the final three regular-season races to earn a spot in the postseason.
Austin Cindric, who won the Daytona 500 for his first career victory, started the day No. 15 in points and finished last in the 37-car race after his No. 2 Ford hit the wall head-on in a nine-car crash that knocked Kyle Busch out of the competition.
“It was a complete mess,” he said.
Wallace won his first career pole Saturday, becoming the only driver to break 190 mph in the Next Gen car during qualifying this season and went even faster early in the race after a 90-minute rain delay.
Wallace, driving for 23XI Racing formed by Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin in 2020, stayed out front until he made a pit stop after 21 laps — two shy of his career high — and the decision that cost him track position due to a crash soon thereafter that included one-fourth of the field.
Wallace blamed himself for letting Harvick pull away after the last pivotal restart.
“I’ll wear this one on my heart for a while,” he said, choking back tears. “I failed everybody.”
BUSCH’S BAD DAY
Busch had another frustrating day, getting knocked out of the race on lap 25 due to the multi-car crash following a restart that also ended Cindric’s day.
“I can’t buy a break right now,” said Busch, who was the favorite to win the race, per FanDuel Sportsbook.
Busch has failed to finish in the top 10 in eight straight races, the longest streak of the two-time champion’s career, and he does not have a contract for next year. Three days before racing at Michigan, he and his wife and their two young children escaped the Mall of America in Minnesota after shots were fired.
ODDS AND ENDS
Austin Hill made his Cup debut for Richard Childress Racing and finished 18th. … Kurt Busch missed his third straight race with concussion-like symptoms. Ty Gibbs, the 19-year-old grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, filled in and was a Cup career-high 10th in the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing. … Cole Custer’s No. 41 Ford had its front left tire engulfed in flames, ending his day midway through the race a week after Chris Buescher’s No. 17 Ford caught fire. … Buescher’s paint job featured the LeBron James Family Foundation. The Los Angeles Lakers superstar is a minority owner with Fenway Sports Group, the parent company of Roush Fenway Keselowski, which hosted James Bromsey III, a sixth-grade student at his I Promise School in Akron, Ohio.
NASCAR shifts to Richmond Raceway in Virginia, one of the last three races of the regular season. Hamlin won at Richmond in April.