FORT WORTH — Kevin Harvick took the lead on a late restart and looked to be cruising to victory Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Then a caution came out, and Harvick had to chase down Ryan Blaney after the next restart. No problem for the driver of the No. 4 Ford — until another yellow flag flew with just over two laps to go.
Now faced with a two-lap overtime shootout, Harvick chose the top lane for the restart, shot ahead of Blaney in Turn 1 and left the field in his rearview mirror en route to winning the AAA Texas 500 for the second consecutive year.
“I knew his car was kind of tight in the middle [of the corner] and kind of loose off,” Harvick said. “If he didn’t finish the corner, he had a tough time staying in the throttle. I just knew I needed to get down into the corner with him. … It all worked out. I’m just really, really proud of everybody [on the team].”
By winning the second of three races in the third round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff, Harvick secured one of the four championship berths in the season finale at Homestead in two weeks.
“We don’t race for points; we race for wins,” Harvick said. “We don’t come here to count our fingers and toes to try to figure out how we’re going to make it. We’re going to earn it. Today we earned our way in.”
Blaney finished second and was followed by Joey Logano, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson. Playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. were sixth through ninth, with Austin Dillon completing the top 10.
“I didn’t quite get far enough ahead of [Harvick] into [Turn] 1,” Blaney said. “We went in side by side, and if I sailed it off in there as fast as he did I would have just gotten loose and wrecked us both.”
Logano will join Harvick in the Homestead four after winning last week at Martinsville. Kyle Busch and Truex are third and fourth in the playoff standings, respectively.
A win next week in Avondale, Arizona, by Elliott or Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer or Almirola would lock that winner into the final four. Otherwise, those bottom four drivers among the eight contenders are unlikely to supplant Kyle Busch or Truex based on points.
“Everybody knew when we started the playoff that those first three spots were already for the most part taken unless [Harvick, Kyle Busch or Truex] had a natural disaster happen,” SHR co-owner Tony Stewart said. “We’ve got three really good race cars and race car drivers and crew chiefs that do have an opportunity still to pull something out at Phoenix next week and get locked in.”
Kyle Busch finished 17th as the last driver on the lead lap at TMS. He went two laps down in the first half of the race after making a pit stop when the No. 18 Toyota developed a vibration that he suspected was from a loose wheel.
Bowyer took the No. 14 Ford to pit lane on Lap 11 after making contact with Denny Hamlin in the first turn of the race. Bowyer finished 26th, three laps down.
The first caution for an incident was when Jimmie Johnson lost control entering Turn 3 of Lap 96 and collected Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron.
Logano was the leader to start the third and final stage of the race, but Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski took the lead for 50 laps — the longest stretch by someone other than Harvick.
Under a caution for Daniel Suarez’s slide into the wall, Logano took the lead in the pits and stayed out front for 26 laps. Harvick passed him on Lap 254 and retook control heading into the final sequence.
“You never want to lose those types of [dominant] days,” Harvick said. “Since they repaved the place [for 2017], it’s just been lights-out for us. I feel like we could have won every race here with the new pavement.”
Kurt Busch trails Truex by 25 points for the final berth at Homestead. Elliott (39 points behind Truex), Almirola (57) and Bowyer (73) face even taller tasks, and Bowyer must win if he wants to advance. Kyle Busch is just three points ahead of Truex.
Harvick’s career-best and season-high eighth win is the 45th of his career. It’s his second in Denton County. Harvick led five times for a race-high 177 laps, and he swept all three stages.
The overtime finish added three laps for a total 337, three more than originally scheduled for the 1 1/2-mile oval.
Frisco resident David Starr made his second Cup start of the year and finished 39th. Starr took the No. 97 Toyota to the garage for several laps early in the race, spun in Turn 1 on Lap 297 to begin the series of late cautions but was running at the finish.
Chris Buescher of Prosper finished 23rd.
Trevor Bayne finished 21st in his final scheduled start in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford, as Matt Kenseth will be in the car the next two weeks. Bayne’s Cup debut came in the 2010 AAA Texas 500, and he won the 2011 Daytona 500 — his only victory — in his second start.