It was a dominating victory for Kevin Harvick and a statement of superiority for his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads toward its 10-race Playoff.
It was an ignominious end to Jimmie Johnson’s unique and unprecedented streak of qualifying for every Cup Series postseason.
And it was heartbreak for Daniel Suarez, as he chased Ryan Newman over the final nine laps of the Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the final Playoff berth in the balance.
Newman came home eighth, as he and fifth-place finisher Clint Bowyer locked up the final two Playoff spots. Suarez ran 11th after getting trapped in traffic on the final restart on Lap 152 of 160 and finished four points behind Newman in the final regular-season standings.
But the story of the race was Harvick, who was in a class by himself. The 2014 series champion won the second stage and during the final nine laps of the race sped to a 6.118-second advantage over runner-up Joey Logano.
Harvick started from the pole, led five times for 119 laps and controlled the event, except for one 19-lap stretch when eventual seventh-place finisher Ryan Blaney grabbed the top spot after a restart on Lap 112.
“I can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis means to me,” Harvick said. “As a kid, I watched Rick Mears win the Indy 500 and got to be around him as a kid. He was my hero.
“My team built a great race car. I can’t say enough about everyone on (this team). They built a heck of a race car. It’s the same stuff that we took to Michigan and had a real good weekend there, obviously, and went to Victory Lane.
“I know how much this means to (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and all the guys who work on this car. We’ve been so close at winning here before.”
True, this was Harvick’s first Brickyard victory with his current SHR contingent, but it was his second overall, the first coming with Richard Childress Racing 16 years ago. Harvick won for the third time this season and the 48th time in his career, tying Herb Thomas for 15th on the all-time list and moving to one win behind his car owner, Tony Stewart.
“I don’t know if we had the best car, but we had the fastest car,” Harvick said. “We gave up the lead there (to Blaney) on one of those restarts, and then we came and pitted, and the caution came out (for Kyle Larson’s crash on Lap 129), and it worked our way.
“We’ve given so many away just because of circumstances here, and the way that the caution flag fell today actually worked in our favor. It gave us control of the race, and we were able to keep control of the race and not make any mistakes, and here we are in Victory Lane at one of the greatest places on earth to race.”
A four-time winner at the Brickyard, Johnson hoped to find magic at the 2.5-mile track. Instead, he found misery. Moments after a restart on Lap 105, his No. 48 Chevrolet broke loose underneath the Camaro of Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, slid sideways and collided with the No. 1 Chevrolet of Kurt Busch.
An eight-car wreck ensued, and Johnson’s car was too heavily damaged to continue. The seven-time champion finished 35th his streak of 15 straight NASCAR postseasons came to an end.
“Yeah, it’s really disappointing,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we’re in here today (18 points out of the Playoffs) and we needed a stellar day. I think we were having a strong day. I’m really proud of my team with what’s been going on.
“The No. 1 car (Kurt Busch) had a little trouble on the restart. I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight. It’s unfortunate that happened. Certainly, it’s not what we needed on that restart. I couldn’t go below the white line and kind of got snipped there and turned around—and around and round we go.”
Similarly, bad luck caught up with Suarez, who pitted because of a vibration on Lap 126 and got caught a lap down when Larson’s wreck caused the seventh caution three circuits later. Suarez got the lap back under the yellow, but he had to restart from the rear and never recovered.
Bubba Wallace ran third in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, posting the second top-three result of his career, the first having come in a runner-up run in the 2018 Daytona 500. Byron was fourth, followed by Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Blaney, Newman, Chase Elliott and Paul Menard.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!