In a late-race battle for the win in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, Kevin Harvick prevailed against Martin Truex, Jr. to win his second race of the year and advance to the championship round of the playoffs.
Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch started the day by leading the field to the green flag after winning the pole for the race by driving the fastest lap on a 1.5-mile track in NASCAR history. Busch took the green flag, and immediately the action started.
Before a single turn was even completed, Denny Hamlin took the lead from Busch, and Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch got loose and made contact with each other. Both Keselowski and Kyle Busch pitted to receive attention to their cars.
Stage one ran mostly under green, and cars ran side-by-side through the run. The race for the lead was so competitive that during the run that at one point, the top five were within one second of each other. During this time, Kyle Larson took second from rookie Erik Jones and chased down leader Denny Hamlin and passed him on lap 47.
Before the end of stage one, Jimmie Johnson was penalized for an uncontrolled tire that caused him to need an extra pit stop, losing valuable time on the track. Meanwhile, up front, Martin Truex, Jr., who has been dominant on one-and-a-half mile tracks, was catching Kevin Harvick, who got the lead under the cycle of green flag pit stops. Truex couldn’t get to Harvick in time, letting the no. 4 team win the first stage of the day.
After taking the lead on pit road under the caution, Denny Hamlin brought the field to the green flag to start stage two. He slipped up the track in turn three on the first lap of the stage, however, handing the lead back to Harvick. Once again, however, it didn’t take long for trouble to strike. As Harvick took the lead, Daniel Suarez and Kasey Kahne spun in turn two. Luckily, no other cars were involved or damaged.
Harvick would lead until lap 122, when Kyle Larson passed him. Once all the drivers had completed service, the lead cycled back around to Larson, who took the second stage win of the day.
Just as the two stages before, it wouldn’t take long for trouble to come about. Just two laps into the stage, Landon Cassill spun out in turn two. When the race restarted again, another long green flag run took place. Martin Truex, Jr. took the lead and led just as he has all season long. The drivers strung out and ran a clam portion of the race and began another cycle of green flag pit stops. During the stops, Kurt Busch had to come back down on pit road to secure a loose tire. When he came to the attention of his crew on lap 233, Michael McDowell spun in turn two, bringing out another caution.
Matt Kenseth grabbed the lead from Truex on the restart, but the gap was quickly shut once again when Ray Black, Jr. and Jeffrey Earnhardt spun, bringing out another yellow flag.
Under the caution, Denny Hamlin made a bold strategic move by taking just two tires to take the lead, while Truex took four tires.
On the restart, Kyle Busch had a flat tire, but was able to control his car and the track stayed under green. Truex was hunting down leader Denny Hamlin for about ten laps when Kyle Larson, who won stage two, crashed into the wall as his car set itself ablaze. For Larson, this marks his third consecutive DNF.
After an extensive cleanup, the race resumed on lap 288. Denny Hamlin spun his tires, which allowed Martin Truex, Jr. to take the lead once again. Truex, however, was not alone out front. Kevin Harvick, who won stage one, began running down Truex as the laps ran out, and with just ten laps to go, Harvick used the outside lane to pass the dominant no. 78, and Harvick went on to win.
With this win, Kevin Harvick secures his spot as one of the four drivers who will race for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks. He joins Kyle Busch, who won last week at Martinsville, in this category.
For Martin Truex, Jr., second place again was disappointing. However, second was enough to put him 70 points ahead of the elimination cutoff, and with one race left in the Round of 8, that is enough points to clinch the third spot to run for a championship in the final race of the season.
Now, with five teams competing for one available spot in the final four, the stage is set for the penultimate race of 2017. With a win, any of those five drivers – Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson – can punch their ticket to Miami. Without a win, they have no control of their destiny.
Tune into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next Sunday from Phoenix Raceway, where the fourth and final driver will earn his place as a championship contender, while four others’ dreams come to a crashing halt.
For a more in-depth look at the AAA Texas 500, tune in to NASCAR Nation on 107.7 The Bronc FM WRRC Thursday night at 7 p.m. eastern time, hosted by the writer of this article, Joseph Passero.