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TMS Winner Harvick Prepping For Miami

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 5 2019
Courtesy of his strong showing at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick is heading back to Miami to run for a second Cup championship. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Barry Cantrell)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Kevin Harvick soldiered through 29 consecutive winless NASCAR Cup Series starts at Texas Motor Speedway before scoring his first victory in the November 2017 Playoff race. So pardon Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers for treating victory in Sunday’s 15th annual AAA Texas 500 as a mere formality on the road to the Championship 4.

Harvick scored his third consecutive victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff event at TMS after qualifying on-pole Saturday and leading a race-high 119 of 334 laps. Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., winner of last Sunday’s Round of 8 opener at Martinsville Speedway, have secured two of the four slots available for the title-decider at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.

For Harvick, Childers and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, the immediate reward was exiting Texas with a shot at “Happy’s” second Cup championship. 

“Well, we’ve already been going down the road (to HMS),” said Harvick, who was followed across the finish line by SHR teammates Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez in a 1-2-3 podium sweep.  “They’ve already built the car, picked a direction.  We’ve got so many things that you had to choose from an aero standpoint, and Homestead is such a unique racetrack.

“We’ve already been to the simulator, we’ve already built the car, and now we’ve just got to make sure that we do what we think is right and go with our gut and see what happens.”

For sure, Harvick and Childers can stop calculating Playoff points. Harvick began the 501-miler around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval fifth among the eight eligible contenders, 14 points behind reigning Cup champion Joey Logano of Team Penske.  Before analyzing HMS’ 1.5-mile oval, Harvick and Childers can take a breath and fine-tune a strategy or two during next Sunday’s event on ISM Raceway’s 1-mile oval outside Phoenix.

“I can’t stand to point-race _ I want to put us in the best position to win the race,” said Childers, seated on a dais featuring team co-owner Tony Stewart. “The biggest thing is we had a great car off the truck. We didn’t have to change anything in practice and just worked on the little things. We didn’t change a single shock, spring or sway bar. We didn’t change (ride) heights the whole weekend. Made sure our (front clip) splitter looked good in all the pictures and videos.

“We talked (Sunday) morning how it would be a different race. I watched the race from the spring (March 31) for the third time and there’s so many circumstances that can change. It’s really about studying. The last time this car raced was Texas in the spring. But what you do at Texas is nothing like what you’re going to do at Homestead.  I would be really surprised if we’re not good in Phoenix next weekend.”

Harvick passed non-Playoff participant Almirola for good on Lap 314 and drove away to a 1.594-second win and visit to Sunoco Victory Lane. Almirola led 62 laps in his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang. Suarez, another non-Playoff driver, added 25 laps-led to the SHR total in his No. 41 Walmart Family Mobile Ford.

“For me, I don’t think we’ve run as well as we wanted to week-in and week-out,” said Harvick, 43, and driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer/Ducks Unlimited Ford. “But this particular year has been neat for me to watch the evolution of how we’ve progressed with the race car. Not being the dominant car on the racetrack has made us work harder.” 

The remaining Playoff contenders were led by Logano, who finished fourth despite failing to lead a lap in the No. 22 AAA Insurance Ford. Logano is fourth in points, 22 behind Truex. The 2017 Cup champion from Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex finished sixth, one spot ahead of teammate Kyle Busch in the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota. Truex leads Harvick and Busch, the 2015 Cup champ, in the standings by 20 points.

“It was a tough day for us,” said Truex, driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. “We expected to run pretty well here after practice and then at the start of the race it was just extremely tight and it stayed that way most of the day. We gained some track position and we could hang on up towards the front. Lacking way too much front grip. We made more adjustments than I think we have in two years combined. We got it better at the end for sure, but it still wasn’t right. We missed something somewhere. Overall, fought hard and gave it our best to the bitter end there and got a decent finish.”

Ryan Blaney of Team Penske placed eighth in the No. 12 Wabash National Ford. And Kyle Larson finished 13th in the No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Both are 23 points below Logano and the cutoff line.

Denny Hamlin, also of JGR, saw his title chances plummet after a spin off Turn 4 and slide job through the infield grass damaged the aerodynamics of his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota. Hamlin finished 28th in the 40-car field, six laps down to Harvick. Hamlin _ who began the weekend second in points and 24 above the cutoff line _ now sits fifth, one spot below the cutoff and 20 behind Logano.

“Just got up in that stuff (PJ1 traction compound) before it was really broke in. Just lost control,” said Hamlin, winner of the Cup race here in March. “That’s all there is to it. Proud of the whole FedEx team for putting their best effort forward so we could be there at the end. We’ll go to Phoenix and try to win. The car and the effort will be there, that’s for sure. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can go there and win. In these circumstances, I like the challenge.”

Chase Elliott quickly became a non-factor Sunday after his No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Camaro got loose in the traction compound in Turn 2 and slapped the backstretch wall on Lap 9. Elliott, who began the day last in Playoff points and in need of a win here to advance, faces the same scenario at ISM Raceway.Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion, concluded his presser by soaking in the fact that his 49th career Cup win tied him with Stewart for 14th on NASCAR’s all-time list. “This is a big win,” said Stewart, a three-time Cup champ. “I can promise you he’s going to far surpass this. That stat could be gone in seven days.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 5 2019
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