EditorsNote: Adding quotes, information
With 12 laps to go in Sunday Consumers Energy 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway, Kevin Harvick received a very welcome message over his radio.
It was crew chief Rodney Childers, and the message was that he was two laps to the good on fuel mileage.
The message/prediction turned out to be accurate.
“Winning races is what it’s all about,” said Harvick, who even had enough fuel to do a victory burnout or two.
Harvick, with his closest pursuers all forced into fuel conservation mode during the final green flag stint, put the hammer down and sprinted away to a 1.05-second victory over Denny Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“For me, I wasn’t really having to save fuel. ... They told me I was one or two laps to the good and when I got the lead and got a good enough distance, then I started to try to manage the throttle,” Harvick said.
“It’s a lot easier to manage that gap than it is to try to manage passing and saving. We were able to do some burnouts and drive it back to Victory Lane so, yes, we had plenty of gas.”
Childers wasn’t worried about his car’s fuel situation.
“I felt good about it,” Childers said. “We got him to save a little bit the last seven, eight laps just to be sure. And you don’t know if there’s going to be a green/white/checker overtime finish.”
The win was the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s second of the season. After a very slow start in terms of victories, Harvick has now won two of the last four races.
“Nothing I could really do,” Hamlin said. “Just didn’t have enough speed. The Ford was about a half-second quicker in qualifying and when we were holding it wide open there at the end, we just couldn’t overcome it.
“Came up one spot short again.”
Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing finished third and 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr. ended up fourth after being forced to start from the rear of the field because his car twice failed pre-race inspection.
Daniel Suarez of SHR finished fifth.
Harvick took the lead with 17 laps to go after Harvick side-drafted his way past defending Series champion Joey Logano.
Logano, who led 52 laps, was one of a number of drivers who ran out of fuel late in the race.
“I needed more gas,” Logano said. “The Shell car isn’t supposed to run out of gas. The positive is we were way better than we were on Friday and Saturday. The negative is that we almost won the race but ended up finishing 17th. You win some, you lose some.”
With just four races remaining until the start of the 16-driver, 10-race Playoffs, the Michigan event was a biggie for those drivers hovering around the cutoff point.
Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports started the day tied with Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman for the 16th and final Playoff spot.
He finished the day in deep trouble.
Just 15 laps in, he got loose and slapped the wall near Turn 2. The incident sent the seven-time champion to the pits and caused him to drop two laps off the pace.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer started the day 15th in points and 12 ahead of Johnson and Newman. But on Lap 137, Bowyer appeared to get nicked from behind by Paul Menard. That sent Bowyer into the wall and out of the race.
As a result, Bowyer went from relatively solid ground in the pursuit of the Playoffs into quicksand.
“You sit here talking about bubble and worrying about points and everything else,” Bowyer said. “We’re way more worried about getting established and running up front on these type race tracks. You make the (Playoffs) and can’t compete, what’s the use? Still plenty of racing. We just got to get some things figured out.”
Newman was the big winner as he stayed out of trouble and finished 12th.
— Field Level Media