- HARVICK WINS AAA TEXAS 500 IN OT; EARNS BERTH IN CHAMPIONSHIP 4
Here’s a weekly glance at the four-round, elimination-style Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs that made a stop Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500, the middle race of the Round of 8. Brief recaps of the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Playoffs also are included as both series competed at Texas as part of the NASCAR Playoffs tripleheader weekend.
Playoff Field: The eight-driver field competing in the three-race Round of 8 consists of defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing; Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports; Joey Logano of Team Penske; 2014 champ Kevin Harvick, 2004 champ Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing; and 2015 series champ Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Race Recap: Harvick turned in a dominant performance, but it took a dramatic overtime to secure the victory in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Harvick, who led a race-high 177 laps and swept both race stages, bolted past Ryan Blaney on the restart of the two-lap, overtime shootout and posted a .447 of a second margin of victory over Blaney for his series-high eighth win of the season. More importantly, Harvick earned an automatic berth in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 18.
It marks the second consecutive year that Harvick has won the AAA Texas 500 to advance to the title race.
“The expectations are to win,” Harvick said. “Like I told you guys before the race, we don’t race for points. We race for wins. We don’t count our fingers and our toes trying to figure out how to make it in (to the Championship 4 race). Today we earned our way in, and we’re going to race again next week (at Phoenix) and try to win another race and then see what we can do at Homestead.”
Harvick owned the lead over Blaney when a caution flew on Lap 332 of the scheduled 336-lap race for a three-car incident in Turn 2. It pitted Harvick and the polesitter Blaney on the front row for the restart, and a pivotal part of the strategy was which lane to choose.
“That last restart I knew I needed to pick the top,” Harvick said. “I wanted to be on the bottom to be safe, because the top got such a good side-draft getting into Turn 1 and the outside groove got rubbered up. I thought if I could keep him from finishing the corner, I could drive back by him. It all worked out.”
Blaney appeared that he would initially challenge Harvick on the restart as he received a strong push from eventual fifth-place finisher Kyle Larson.
“The 42 (Larson) gave me a heck of a push, but I didn’t quite get far enough ahead of the 4 (Harvick) into (Turn) 1,” Blaney said. “We went in side‑by‑side. If I sailed off in there as fast as he did I would have got loose, wrecked us both. You kind of knew you were beat getting into (Turn) 1 when you’re there because you know the guy on the outside is going to pin you. I figured when he took the top, it was going to take a really good push and position into (Turn) 1 to have a prayer at it. Just didn’t happen.”
Five other playoff contenders finished among the top 10 led by a third-place finish by Logano, who already has clinched a spot in the Championship 4 with last week’s win at Martinsville. Elliott finished sixth, Kurt Busch seventh, Almirola eighth and Truex Jr. ninth.
Kyle Busch, who dealt with a pit-road speeding penalty and an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel, was 17th and Bowyer took 26th.
Click https://goo.gl/X63cHd for the race recap at NASCAR.com.
How They Stand: With the victory, Harvick secured one of the four berths in the Championship 4 title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 18. Harvick joins Logano, who won the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville, in the Championship 4, leaving two berths available for the remaining six playoff contenders. A victory in a Round of 8 race by a championship-contending driver advances him to the Championship 4 finale and the remaining positions to advance are based off points earned in those three races. Four more drivers will be eliminated from championship contention following the Round of 8. The points following Texas have Kyle Busch (+28), Truex Jr. (+25) above the cutline to advance. Below the cutline are Kurt Busch (-25), Elliott (-39), Bowyer (-57) and Almirola (-73).
Next Up: The Round of 8 elimination race is Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix (1:30 p.m. CT, TV: NBC, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN).
Coming Soon: The season finale – known as the Championship 4 for the four remaining contenders for the series title – is the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 19 (TV: NBC, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN). The highest finisher in that race among the four remaining contenders will be crowned the series champion.
Xfinity Series Playoff Update: Cole Custer banged past Tyler Reddick on a dramatic final lap to win Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. The 0.162 of a second margin of victory was the third-closest Xfinity Series race in the history of the speedway. Custer’s victory – his first of the season and second of his career – earned him an automatic berth in the Xfinity Series Championship 4 in two weeks at Miami-Homestead Speedway. Custer is the only playoff driver locked in as the series heads to Saturday’s Round of 8 elimination race at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. (2:30 p.m. CT, TV: NBC, Radio: SiriusXM, MRN). The three drivers currently above the cutline to advance off points are Reddick (+20), Elliott Sadler (+13) and Daniel Hemric (+12). Those below the cutline are Justin Allgaier (-12), Matt Tifft (-14), Christopher Bell (-34) and Austin Cindric (-61).
Camping World Truck Series Playoff Update: Justin Haley won Friday night’s JAG Metals 350 at Texas Motor Speedway to earn a berth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 in Miami. Todd Gilliland was closing in on becoming the youngest NCWTS winner in Texas Motor Speedway history, but he ran out of fuel on the final lap to give the win to Haley. Haley and Johnny Sauter, who won at Martinsville, have secured two of the four championship berths heading into Friday’s Round of 6 elimination race at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. (7:30 p.m. CT, TV: FOX Sports 1, Radio: MRN). Currently above the cutline to advance via points are Brett Moffitt (+22) and Noah Gragson (+18). Grant Enfinger (-18) and Matt Crafton (-23) are below the cutline to advance.
Note-While the championship fields are reduced by virtue of elimination in each of the rounds, each race continues to have a full field competing.