In back-to-back races now, Kevin Harvick has thoroughly dominated Sunday’s event. Last week at Atlanta he led 181 of the 325 laps, and this week he led 214 of the 267 laps. To further explain his domination, Harvick became the second driver ever to “drive for the cycle”. Driving for the cycle is when a driver wins stage one, stage two and the race. Martin Truex Jr. became the first driver to do it when he did it one year ago at Las Vegas.
Ryan Blaney started out on the pole for Sunday’s race, but was only able to hang onto the lead for one lap before Harvick took over out front. Stage one featured no cautions, so Harvick caught the end of the field fairly quickly and started putting cars down a lap.
On lap 33, he put Jimmie Johnson a lap down. Johnson qualified 14th for the race, but was forced to start at the rear of the field and his Car Chief was suspended for the race because his car failed pre-race inspection three times.
By the end of the first stage, Harvick had lapped all the way up through 16th position. This left only 15 cars on the lead-lap heading to pit road under the stage ending caution.
On pit road, Harvick’s crew experienced another issue with NASCAR’s mandated air-gun. This was the second week in a row that his crew had this issue, but he still came off pit road first for the restart.
Stage two mirrored stage one almost identically. Harvick led the stage start to finish except for a few laps in the middle when green flag pit stops cycled through. Kyle Busch stayed out for a few extra laps during the pit cycle, but would eventually relinquish the lead back to Harvick.
Once regaining the lead after the pit cycle, Harvick never looked back and led the field for the remainder of the stage. At the completion of stage two, Harvick had left only 13 drivers on the lead-lap. For the second week in a row, he was truly flexing his muscles.
Through the first two stages of the race there had been no cautions caused by accidents or debris. The only yellow flags had come out at the completion of each stage.
The beginning of the final stage finally featured some drama and even dethroned Harvick from the top spot. During the pit stops at the end of the second stage, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, and Ryan Blaney all were able to beat Harvick off of pit road. These three started the final stage ahead of Harvick, who restarted fourth.
Shorty after the restart Jamie McMurray blew a tire coming out of the turn and slammed hard into the outside wall. This brought out the first caution of the race that was the result of an accident.
During the caution everyone but Martin Truex Jr. came down pit road to get tires and fuel. Logano only took two tires and fuel, while the rest of his competitors took four tires and fuel. Logano restarted on the outside of Truex Jr. on the front row.
On the restart Truex Jr. immediately began to regret his decision of not pitting. The cars with fresh tires began to quickly pass him and leave him behind. Luckily for him, this only lasted for less than a lap.
Before completing one full lap after the restart, Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott brought out the caution. Coming out of turn four, Kurt Busch’s car got loose and he was forced to correct the slide and turn the car right. In doing so, he slammed up against Elliott’s number 9 car and took them both hard into the outside wall. Both cars were damaged beyond repair and done for the day. Kurt Busch finished 35th, and Elliott 34th.
Following the caution, Kevin Harvick restarted in third place. He quickly got back to the front of the field and resumed his domination. Eventually green flag pit stops came around again and he would lose the lead for a few laps. Similar to the last stage, Kyle Busch stayed out longer than the rest of the field and led some laps.
A late Kyle Busch run?
When Busch at last came in, Harvick once again took over the lead. With under forty laps remaining, Kyle Busch started to charge his way towards the front. Following his final green flag pit stop he came out in 9th place, 8.9 seconds back. The hard-charging Busch made his way all the way up to second place, only 2.5 seconds behind Harvick with 15 laps to go.
2.5 seconds would be as close as Busch would get. Over the final 15 laps Harvick opened the gap back up to 3.5 seconds and would stabilize it there for the rest of the race.
At the end of the race, Harvick lapped all but nine cars. Himself, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, and Paul Menard were the only cars left on the lead-lap at the completion of the scheduled 267 laps.
Next week NASCAR travels to another one of Harvick’s best tracks, Phoenix. He’ll have a great opportunity there to win his third consecutive race, which he’s never done in his career.
Featured image courtesy of fansided.com
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