FORT WORTH, Texas — In a year when Martin Truex Jr. has been the preeminent force on mile-and-a-half race tracks, Kevin Harvick cracked the code to beating Truex and punched his ticket to the Championship 4 on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Living up to his long-time moniker, ‘The Closer’, Harvick drove Truex down and passed him in the closing stages of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, taking advantage of a slight mistake to drive by on the outside and off into the setting Texas sun.
Harvick began his charge with 28 to go after passing Denny Hamlin, who was on two fresh tires instead of four, for the runner-up spot. Once he was in clean air, the 2014 champion quickly closed on Truex with a full head of steam.
A two-second gap became mere car lengths in just 10 laps, as Truex was held up in slower traffic and Harvick began charging the corners harder and harder in an effort to run down the season’s dominant driver, but for the next 10 miles Harvick stalled out every time he would get to Truex’s back bumper in an effort to make the pass.
Finally, Harvick pounced with 10 to go when Truex bobbled in turn two, surging to the outside off the exit of the corner and clearing the No. 78 at the end of the backstretch.
From there, Harvick pulled away to a 1.58-second margin of victory at the checkered flag, securing his place in the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-record third time (2014, ’15, ’17).
But equally as important to Harvick, it was his first-career win at Texas, a track that had eluded him throughout his 17-year Cup career.
“Damn, it’s good to be here in victory lane at Texas!” Harvick exclaimed on the frontstretch after a huge burnout. “I’m happy to finally get to victory lane here. It’s been a long time coming.”
“I knew I had a really good car, and I knew I had to do something different (to beat Truex),” Harvick added. “I started driving it into turn one a whole lot deeper … and the harder I drove it, the better it turned. I saw the 42 (Kyle Larson) doing that early in the race. I was just afraid I didn’t have the brakes to keep doing that all day, so I waited until the end and was able to get on the outside of Martin there.”
“I think I got him loose as I brushed across him on the back, but it got me on his outside … and then my car pushed up the track, but it stuck up there and I was able to clear him and take off.”
Sunday marked the 41-year-old’s 37th career win, his 12th win in the playoffs and seventh since the elimination format was introduced three years ago.
The numbers are proof that Harvick and his team thrive in pressure situations.
“We love these situations when you have to step up and perform,” Harvick said. “I feel like our team comes out swinging when our backs are against the wall and it really allows us to shine. It’s been quite a year for us as a whole and it’s been a lot of work for the guys to get to where we are today. I’m really, really proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas for the things they’ve done, and hopefully, we can do it again at Homestead.”
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