If momentum means a bunch in auto racing, then Kevin Harvick will enter the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Playoffs with a good shot of racking up a second series championship.
Harvick won one of Cup’s biggies on Sunday, and he did it rather handily. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led a race-best 119 laps as he rumbled to victory in the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I know how much this means (to everybody on his team),” Harvick said. “I know how much this means to, really, everybody.”
The victory in the series’ regular-season finale was Harvick’s third in the last seven races and gave him his sixth top-seven result during that time.
It was the 2014 Cup champ’s second win at the famed 2.5-mile oval and it came by a robust 6.1 seconds over runner-up Joey Logano of Team Penske.
As dominating as Harvick was, he said he needed a bit of late-race luck.
“I don’t know if we had the best car,” said Harvick, who was the race’s pole-sitter.
“We gave up the lead on one of those restarts and then we came and pitted and the caution came out and it worked our way. We’ve given so many of them away just because of circumstances here, and the way 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.”
Bubba Wallace had a huge day for Richard Petty Racing as he finished third, giving him his second-ever podium finish.
Rounding out the top five were William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports and Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas.
The race at the Brickyard set the field for the 16-driver, 10-race Playoffs, which will begin next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
One notable driver who did not make the field is Jimmie Johnson.
His hopes to win a record eighth Cup championship ended in the Turn 2 wall at Indy. Just after the restart for the third and final stage of the Brickyard, Johnson found himself on the bottom of the track, three-wide with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Byron and Kurt Busch of Chip Ganassi Racing.
Johnson and Byron bumped doors, sending Johnson hard into the wall. So, for the first time since the series began its playoff format in 2004, Johnson will not be included.
“Certainly disappointing. We needed a stellar day and I think we were having a strong day,” said Johnson, who qualified fifth for the race.
“I’m on the inside going into the corner and it was just super tight. Unfortunately that happened.”
He said he looks forward to a brighter 2020 season.
“This team is getting strong each and every week,” he said. “We’re ready to roll.”
Four drivers — Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Johnson — had started the day with shots at winning the final two Playoff spots. Twenty-six points separated Bowyer and Johnson.
Bowyer earned the 15th spot with his fifth-place finish, while Newman of Roush Fenway Racing finished eighth Sunday to earn the final berth.
“This was key for us,” Bowyer said. “A top-five, some momentum.”
Kyle Busch is No. 1 in the Playoffs field, followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Logano and Brad Keselowski. Harvick is sixth.
—Field Level Media