FORT WORTH, Texas -- Kevin Harvick celebrated with both guns blazing at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday night.
Harvick started from the pole and led a race-high 105 laps en route to his third consecutive win in the AAA Texas 500.
And for the fifth time in six seasons, the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team will battle for the championship at Miami-Homestead Speedway.
“Texas has always been so great to us, and what a racetrack the last few years,” Harvick said. “They brought a great Ducks Unlimited Busch Beer Ford to the racetrack this weekend, but I've got to thank everybody, everybody who helps put this car on the racetrack week in and week out, and all those guys in the race shop, Roush Yates Engines for putting this engine in this last week, and so it's just been a lot of work put into this race.
“We knew this was a good racetrack for us. Felt like it fit the styles of our cars, and man, did it.”
Stewart-Haas Racing collected the trifecta on Sunday. Aric Almirola finished second—.3.803-seconds behind Harvick—followed by Daniel Suarez. Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10.
Playoff contenders Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin encountered issues early in the race. Elliott had just passed Bowman for 12th on Lap 9 when he climbed a little high on the track and slapped the wall in Turn 2. The No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team about ran out the crash clock but were able to return Elliott to the track on Lap 16. He dropped to 40th, six laps off the pace. Elliott would soldier on to finish 32nd, 22 laps down. He remains in the Playoff cellar, 100 points behind Martin Truex Jr.
“I made a mistake, got loose and crashed,” Elliott said. “I really hate that happened. Obviously, it’s not good and not what you’re looking for. It’s just my mistake and there’s really no excuse for it. It’s just all eyes on Phoenix.”
Brad Keselowski triggered the fourth caution on Lap 54 while running 12th. After he slammed into the Turn 4 wall, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the brakes but slid sideway into the No. 2 Ford. Both cars careened into the front stretch before coming to a stop.
Hamlin was the next victim. The No. 11 was running in the top 10 before cutting a tire and spinning off of Turn 4 into the front stretch on Lap 81. Hamlin finished 28th, six laps off the pace, and dropped from second to fifth in the standings.
“Just got up in that stuff (PJ1) before it was really broke in,” Hamlin said. “Just lost control. 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. Did the best we could and we’ll go to Phoenix and try to win.”
Harvick grabbed the lead from Clint Bowyer on the Lap 85 restart and held on to win the first stage. Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Bowman, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Ryan Preece, Blaney and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.
The second stage ran caution-free with Jimmie Johnson leading a stage-high 40 laps the most time the No. 48 Chevy spent at the point since Texas in the spring. With late-stage pit stops, Almirola cycled back to the lead on Lap 165 and held on to win the segment followed by Jones, Johnson, Larson, Logano, Harvick, Bowman, Suarez, Kyle Busch and William Byron.
Suarez passed Byron for the lead on the Lap 178 restart. His 23 laps out front were slowed by Johnson spinning off of Turn 2 to ignite Caution 9 on Lap 187. When Harvick came to pit, the No. 4 team was penalized for having tires over the wall and not making a tire change. NASCAR sent Harvick to the tail end of the lead lap cars and he restarted 14th.
As Johnson was sent to the garage for not meeting minimum speed on Lap 200, Almirola worked his way to the front of the field followed by Suarez and Kurt Busch. Thirty laps later, green-flag pit stop started and Bowyer, Larson, Kurt Busch and Jones all came in for service. Almirola relinquished the lead to Logano on Lap 240. Three laps later, Bubba Wallace spun to ignite the 11th and final caution.
With Larson's recent pit stop then dropping to 19th, the No. 42 team did not take kindly to Wallace’s timely spin—particularly with the Playoffs on the line.
“That was very obvious,” Larson said. “The 43 was spinning on purpose. He turned right—and then left—to spin out. When it’s blatant and that obvious, I think it’s pretty easy for (NASCAR) to make a call on it.
“I think Helen Keller could have seen that.”
Logano led followed by Kyle Busch, Harvick, Bowman, Austin Dillon and Ryan Preece—all who had yet to pit. Almirola assumed the lead with 90 laps to go but was passed by Harvick seven laps later. With a solid fuel-only stop on Lap 307, Harvick was back in command on Lap 314 and held serve over the final 21 circuits for his 49th Cup victory—tying his boss Tony Stewart for 14th on the all-time win list.
“I'm excited about the fact that he's going to far surpass this landmark,” Stewart said. “But I'm really proud that the night that he did tie it that it's on a night that was so significant.
“I mean, this is a big win. It's not just an early‑season win or a second win that doesn't mean anything. This is the win that locks him into running for a championship at Homestead.”
“And he's here, so that's pretty cool,” Harvick added. “The only conversations that we talked about was we want to win races and have a chance to win championships.
“I think that the faith that he and his group put in letting us talk them into going out and hiring him and putting the faith in him and going out and hiring the guys that he wanted to hire when we bought the team, or when we built the team, we didn't have a truck, we didn't have a trailer, we didn't have a race car, and they let us do everything how we wanted from the very beginning.”
The platform Stewart-Haas Racing has provided for Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers has enabled the team to flourish over the last six seasons. Now, Harvick is in position to make another run at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship.
“It's kind of reshaped and molded and changed things at SHR, and last year, I don't even know how many races we won as a team last year, but we won a bunch of races as four drivers,” Harvick said. “And really, to me, that's the most rewarding thing is seeing the company continue to thrive and win races in different rules packages, big motors, tapered spacers, big spoilers, little spoilers, Fords, Chevrolets, Stewart‑Haas Racing has been in Victory Lane, and we've been fortunate to win races with all those different scenarios.
“In the end, that comes down to people. You're only as good as the people that you have around you.”