Kevin Harvick doubled-down at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.
After dominating Saturday’s race, the Consumer’s Energy 400 was nearly a carbon copy for the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Despite a late-race challenge by Denny Hamlin over the final five laps, Harvick held on by 0.093-seconds to sweep the NASCAR Cup contests in the Irish Hills. Harvick became the first driver to go back-to-back in as many days since Richard Petty in 1971.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve raced back-to-back days let alone in the Cup car," Harvick said. "I’ve never accomplished that obviously, but we’ve done that a couple times this year, so I think for us it’s worked out pretty well.
"We’re hoping it goes the same way at Dover when we go there in a couple of weeks.”
Martin Truex Jr. finished third followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch.
Clint Bowyer won the first stage, but after the first 40 laps, it was all Harvick. He started 20th after the top half of the field was inverted and raced to eighth in Stage 1.
Harvick shot to the lead on Lap 48 and won Stage 2 with a four-second advantage over Brad Keselowski. Although Harvick had the lead out of the pits and chose the high line to start the final stage, Ryan Blaney, who restarted fifth, passed the No. 4 Ford for the lead on Lap 92.
But the race would turn horrible wrong for Blaney four laps later. Coming out of Turn 2 on Lap 96, Keselowski went low, attempting to pass Blaney. The No. 2 Ford got loose and slid up into his Penske teammate and collected both cars. Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson, who were both running in the top 12 at the time, received residual damage.
“I just lost it,” said Keselowski, who finished 39th. “It’s my fault. I feel really bad for my teammate, Ryan Blaney. He didn’t deserve that. I just came off of turn four and the 4 car was behind me and he gave me a push and I swear I went into the corner like 20 miles an hour faster than I had been all day and got past the 11 and I went to get underneath the 12 and I just slipped.
“I lost the back a little bit and when I went to collect it he was there and I wiped him out and myself out, so I feel terrible for everyone at Team Penske and especially Ryan Blaney. Gosh, he didn’t deserve that. I should have whoa’d way up. I had been running wide-open on the bottom all day and thought I could do it again, but with that big push I overestimated the grip and ruined our day.”
Blaney, who was hoping for a second victory, took the incident in stride despite finishing 38th.
“It’s just unfortunate for the whole Penske organization,” Blaney said. “We had two fast cars battling for the lead and it just stinks that happened. He had a run, like he said, and he didn’t think he had as big of a run as he had and just got loose and, unfortunately, got us both.
“It’s a shame to end our day like that with the Knauf/Menards Ford Mustang. We were so fast. We had to battle back from having to pit again and got to 10th for the second stage and then got the lead. I was like, ‘All right, we can finally go back at it,’ and just got together there. That’s unfortunate, but it’s not gonna carry over. Things happen. Mistakes happen. t’s just a shame both of us got taken out.”
When the race resumed on Lap 102, Harvick went outside of Hamlin and cleared the No. 11 Toyota coming out of Turn 4. Before the field completed the second green lap, Bowyer pitted with a tire rub received during the Penske melee. He finished 14th.
Christopher Bell was the next driver with a tire issue. Despite restarting sixth, he dropped to 10th before he spun in Turn 2 on Lap 105 to bring out the fourth caution. Bell, who ran as high as second on Sunday, settled for 17th.
Due to a miscue in communication, Almirola, who was running fifth, remained on the track during the caution and assumed the lead as the competition came to pit road. Harvick, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and DiBenedetto lined up behind the No. 10 Ford for the Lap 110 restart. Although the Stewart-Haas Racing teammates traded position twice over the next five circuits, Harvick drove back to the point on Lap 116 and would hold serve over the final 41 laps.
Hamlin pulled to within two car lengths of Harvick with five laps to go. He closed in on the No. 4 Ford’s bumper over the final two circuits but couldn’t complete the pass.
“Once we finally got to second, I knew we had something for him," Hamlin said. "I just got stalled there and he was tight, I was tight. We were better, that’s for sure. I thought if I could maybe get to his quarter panel, I could shove him higher and make him tighter, but just couldn’t quite do it.
"Proud of this whole FedEx Ground Toyota team. We obviously had a very strong run. Just needed a little bit more.”
With his sixth victory of the season--and his sixth win on the two-mile track--Harvick extended his career Cup total to 55 and tied Rusty Wallace for 10th on the NASCAR all-time win list. To pass Lee Petty for wins and match Wallace seems unreal to the 44-year-old racer.
"Those are names that would come with responsibility and you have to think about what you’re doing in this sport and the things that you’re doing with yourself and your team and how you represent and the things you’re doing to push this sport forward," Harvick said. "Icons in our sport and it almost seems a little bit surreal to be going by those names and tying Rusty.
"Rusty has been a big part of my career. When I was in trouble early in my career he was one of two guys that would talk to me and always gave me great advice and still does to this day.”
Harvick extended his points lead by 137 over Keselowski. He uses the strength of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team to fuel his success.
“It drives you," Harvick said. "I think when you look at my team we’ve been together for going on seven years now and you look at the confidence everybody has in each other. The details of the race cars and the thought of everything that goes into everything that we do is untouchable. That’s what it takes are details to make these race cars go fast."