After Kevin Harvick cruised to his fifth win since NASCAR resumed the 2020 season during the Covid-19 pandemic—and his third victory in his last four starts at Michigan—his fellow competitors wondered whether there would be any shot of stopping the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team on Sunday.
Multiple cautions over the second half of Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 couldn’t slow Harvick’s inexorable progress toward the win. Even as the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas lined up for a late-race challenge, Harvick was ready and able to defend his position. He took crew chief Rodney Childers’ words to heart: Do whatever it takes to win.
Harvick responded by roughing up Kyle Busch just enough for the lead—and eventually his fourth win at the two-mile speedway.
“Just nowhere near his (Harvick) level of fast,” said Busch, who finished fifth. “The 4 car was just driving away, and I was running wide open and couldn’t even draft with him down the straightaways. We definitely didn’t have the speed we needed, but had a good balanced car, good-driving car, and hopefully, we can work on it a little bit tonight and get it better for tomorrow.
“Just need to be better in traffic and be able to maneuver and be able to pass just a bit more.”
Harvick’s take-no-prisoners mentality is why he was not only indomitable on Saturday but could be unstoppable en route to his second championship in November.
“He is just super fast in the corners and the straightaway,” runner-up Brad Keselowski said after Saturday’s race. “He was definitely the best car out here today.
“We put a good effort to kind of maximize our day, and that is what we did, finished second. Proud of everyone on the Discount Tire Ford Mustang team. We will go back to work on it and hopefully find a little bit more for the race tomorrow.”
As dominating as Harvick’s performance was at Michigan, Keselowski was equally dominant last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway—the track that most resembles Phoenix Raceway, which will host the season finale 15 races from now. Both drivers compete with Roush-Yates horsepower, and had it not been for an assist from Chase Elliott pushing Harvick out ahead of Keselowski on the final restart, the outcome might have been different.
Was there anything Keselowski could have done or was he simply outmatched?
“I had like three ideas, and I watched the replay, and none of them would have worked,” Keselowski said. “At the moment, there was nothing I feel like I could have done differently, other than just be a little faster or have a little more speed. Kind of stuck right there.”
Certainly, this weekend’s introduction of the choose rule—where competitors select either the top or bottom lane for each restart—offered teams options throughout the race. Elliott went from fifth to second alongside Harvick after electing to take the inside lane. But even after Elliott grabbed the lead from the No. 4 SHR Ford on the Lap 139 restart, he wasn’t convinced he could pull off the same strategy when the seventh caution flew five laps later.
And he was right.
“We had a strong restart there at the end of the race from the inside lane,” said Elliott, who wound up seventh. “When that next caution came out, I just didn’t see it playing out the same way twice, so I chose to go to the outside lane. Our NAPA Chevrolet was just tight all day, and the team worked hard to try and get it dialed in--they had a solid day on pit road.
“I think we learned a few things today that we can hopefully use tomorrow.”
Harvick will start 20th on Sunday NASCAR's inversion of the top 20 finishers from Saturday, but it will take more than hope for Elliott or any of the other 37 challengers to thwart Harvick’s march to a second title. Without the randomness of NASCAR’s Playoff system, Harvick, who currently holds a 94-point lead over Keselowski in the Cup standings, could already be planning his championship party.