NASCAR: Round 23 – Michigan – Aug 15

Kevin Harvick became the first driver officially through to the 200 Chase, with a win in the Carfax 400 at the two-mile oval track of Michigan International Speedway cementing his already formidable points lead.

He did it by running a consistently high line throughout the event, and then gambling further by staying out at the final caution to restart in second behind Tony Stewart and risk running on old tyres. Recent races have shown that’s rarely a good strategy, but Harvick made it work for him and ended up with superior speed over the surprisingly long final stint of the day to claim the lead and eke out a 1.7s advantage at the chequered flag. That made it Harvick’s first win at Michigan, his third win of the season and the 14th of his career, as he now has a 293pt lead over Jeff Gordon in the championship.

At the start of the race, Jimmie Johnson had quickly taken the lead from polesitter Kasey Kahne but was passed by Greg Biffle on lap 15, and further bumped back to third by Tony Stewart and then another place by Harvick, who was marching toward the front even at this early stage.

Kurt Busch’s engine expired on lap 32 bringing out the first caution at a welcome moment for Biffle, who was low on fuel and also suffering from some debris on his front grill raising overheating concerns. He was able to get that attended to and still emerge at the head of the field, in front of Stewart, Johnson, Harvick and Clint Bowyer: Harvick was clearly the man on the move and by lap 48 he had snatched second place and moving up on the back bumper of the leader.

A brief yellow for light rain on lap 60 allowed for the next pit stops, and Harvick’s attempt to pass Biffle at the restart didn’t pay off and instead saw him fall back behind Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart. Harvick was clearly pushing hard, and even escaped a brush with the wall without much apparent damage as he duelled with Stewart and Johnson: Stewart eventually emerged victorious and then took the fight to Biffle, claiming the lead on lap 84: Harvick was reporting tyre issues, Kyle Busch had fallen back with handling problems on the straightaway, and Hamlin had dropped out of the top ten with an electrical problem.

The next round of pit stops around the halfway mark of the two hundred lap race was under green, and while Tony Stewart initially emerged in front after the stops had cycled through it was soon clear that Harvick’s problems were behind him and he was a lot happier on this set of rubber, claiming the lead on lap 111. By contrast, Greg Biffle was now struggling to match him after a trackbar adjustment made the car too loose.

The next pit stops, around lap 137, were also under green but quickly followed by the third caution of the day on lap 148 when Ryan Newman spun in turn 4 after contact with Joey Logano who simply got loose and ran into the back of him. Newman didn’t sustain any significant damage, and after getting new tyres at the same time as everyone else pitted he was still good to go.

At the restart on lap 152, Harvick led Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Stewart – Busch once again benefiting from some of the best pit stops of anyone in the series. Unfortunately Gordon’s challenge ended when his left-front tyre gave up just two laps into the restart, bringing out the fourth caution on lap 154. The leaders came in to top off their fuel, but Elliott Sadler stayed out to claim the lead at the restart ahead of Martin Truex Jr and David Ragan, who both took brief turns at the front before Tony Stewart took control again – just as the fifth caution of the day came out for debris in turn 2 on lap 167.

While others pitted – including Kyle Busch, who had brushed the wall and needed some fender alignment from his pit crew before he could continue – Stewart and Harvick stayed out ahead of Hamlin, Regan Smith and Scott Speed. Biffle had decided to pit for a full set of fresh tyres and this seemed to pay off straightaway as be bounced quickly back into the top four, and Harvick – sensing the danger – decided it was time to make his play by boosting Denny Hamlin into the lead ahead of Stewart on lap 178. He wasn’t able to follow through and then draft past Hamlin for the lead himself, however, and had to settle for running in second instead.

Hamlin continued to hold the lead, while further back Juan Montoya was battling first with Carl Edwards for fourth and then Greg Biffle over fifth place, a battle subsequently joined by a charging Matt Kenseth in the final dozen laps. Then with 11 laps to go, Harvick made his move and finally pulled off the pass on Hamlin for the lead. He urgently started pulling out a lead as fast as he could, and would have been worried about a late race caution as he was unlikely to be able to fare well in a sprint finish on such worn tyres, but the motorsports gods were with him and the track stayed green to the finish to claim the race win – and assure a sot in the 2010 Chase.

Race result

POS ST  CAR DRIVER              MAKE      PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1   8   29  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet 190/5   200  
2   33  11  Denny Hamlin        Toyota    175/5   200  
3   24  99  Carl Edwards        Ford      165/0   200  
4   6   16  Greg Biffle         Ford      170/10  200  
5   7   17  Matt Kenseth        Ford      155/0   200  
6   4   14  Tony Stewart        Chevrolet 155/5   200  
7   5   42  Juan Montoya        Chevrolet 146/0   200  
8   9   56  Martin Truex Jr.    Toyota    147/5   200  
9   23  19  Elliott Sadler      Ford      143/5   200  
10  27  20  Joey Logano         Toyota    134/0   200  
11  29  6   David Ragan         Ford      135/5   200  
12  2   48  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet 132/5   200  
13  3   33  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet 124/0   200  
14  1   9   Kasey Kahne         Ford      121/0   200  
15  37  47  Marcos Ambrose      Toyota    118/0   200  
16  14  00  David Reutimann     Toyota    115/0   200  
17  16  43  A.J. Allmendinger   Ford      112/0   200  
18  18  18  Kyle Busch          Toyota    109/0   200  
19  38  88  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Chevrolet 106/0   200  
20  19  1   Jamie McMurray      Chevrolet 103/0   200  
21  20  78  Regan Smith         Chevrolet 100/0   200  
22  30  21  Bill Elliott        Ford      97/0    200  
23  17  39  Ryan Newman         Chevrolet 94/0    200  
24  11  31  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet 91/0    200  
25  31  82  Scott Speed         Toyota    88/0    200  
26  34  83  Reed Sorenson       Toyota    85/0    200  
27  36  24  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet 82/0    200  
28  12  5   Mark Martin         Chevrolet 79/0    200  
29  25  26  Patrick Carpentier  Ford      76/0    200  
30  32  38  Travis Kvapil       Ford      78/5    200  
31  39  34  Tony Raines         Ford      70/0    200  
32  28  77  Sam Hornish Jr.     Dodge     67/0    200  
33  40  71  Bobby Labonte       Chevrolet 64/0    198  
34  26  12  Brad Keselowski     Dodge     61/0    197  
35  10  98  Paul Menard         Ford      58/0    197  
36  42  37  David Gilliland     Ford      55/0    195  
37  41  7   P.J. Jones          Toyota    52/0    64   Brakes
38  15  09  Landon Cassill      Chevrolet 49/0    54   Electrical
39  35  207 Robby Gordon        Toyota    46/0    34   Brakes
40  13  2   Kurt Busch          Dodge     43/0    30   Engine
41  21  13  Max Papis           Toyota    40/0    27   Rear Gear
42  43  55  Michael McDowell    Toyota    37/0    20   Electrical
43  22  87  Joe Nemechek        Toyota    34/0    14   Ignition

Sprint Cup standings

	 	 	 	
POS +/-  DRIVER                 PTS   BEHIND  ST  P  W  T5 T10 
1   --   Kevin Harvick          3400  Leader  23  0  3  11 16  
2   --   Jeff Gordon            3107  -293    23  0  0  10 13  
3   +3   Denny Hamlin           3047  -353    23  0  5  9  10  
4   +4   Tony Stewart           3020  -380    23  2  0  6  13  
5   --   Jimmie Johnson         3014  -386    23  0  5  8  12  
6   +3   Carl Edwards           2986  -414    23  1  0  5  12  
7   -4   Jeff Burton            2986  -414    23  0  0  4  12  
8   -1   Kyle Busch             2975  -425    23  2  2  5  11  
9   +1   Matt Kenseth           2961  -439    23  0  0  5  9   
10  -6   Kurt Busch             2935  -465    23  2  2  8  13  
11  --   Greg Biffle            2913  -487    23  0  1  5  13  
12  +1   Clint Bowyer           2755  -645    23  0  0  3  11  
======= CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS =======
13  -1   Mark Martin            2720  -680    23  1  0  5  7   
14  --   Ryan Newman            2652  -748    23  1  1  2  6   
15  --   Jamie McMurray         2650  -750    23  3  2  6  8   
16  +1   Kasey Kahne            2629  -771    23  2  0  5  7   
17  -1   Dale Earnhardt Jr.     2626  -774    23  1  0  2  6   
18  --   David Reutimann        2590  -810    23  0  1  4  4   
19  --   Juan Montoya           2582  -818    23  2  1  5  10  
20  --   Martin Truex Jr.       2548  -852    23  1  0  1  6   
21  --   Joey Logano            2527  -873    23  1  0  2  9   
22  --   A.J. Allmendinger      2499  -901    23  1  0  1  4   
23  --   Paul Menard            2399  -1001   23  0  0  1  3   
24  --   David Ragan            2283  -1117   23  0  0  0  1   
25  --   Brad Keselowski        2203  -1197   23  0  0  0  0   
26  --   Marcos Ambrose         2173  -1227   23  0  0  1  3   
27  --   Scott Speed            2133  -1267   23  0  0  0  2   
28  --   Sam Hornish Jr.        2091  -1309   23  0  0  0  0   
29  --   Elliott Sadler         2079  -1321   23  0  0  0  1   
30  --   Regan Smith            1924  -1476   23  0  0  0  0   
31  --   Bobby Labonte          1738  -1662   23  0  0  0  0   
32  --   Travis Kvapil          1621  -1779   22  0  0  0  0   
33  --   Robby Gordon           1493  -1907   20  0  0  1  1   
34  +1   David Gilliland        1470  -1930   19  0  0  0  0   
35  -1   Kevin Conway*          1439  -1961   21  0  0  0  0   
36  --   Brian Vickers          1158  -2242   11  0  0  0  3   
37  --   Joe Nemechek           934   -2466   22  0  0  0  0   
38  --   Max Papis              907   -2493   18  0  0  0  0   
39  --   David Stremme          825   -2575   11  0  0  0  0   
40  --   Mike Bliss             799   -2601   11  0  0  0  2   
41  +2   Bill Elliott           706   -2694   8   0  0  0  0   
42  -1   Dave Blaney            699   -2701   17  0  0  0  0   
43  -1   Casey Mears            654   -2746   9   0  0  0  0   
44  +1   Reed Sorenson          645   -2755   9   0  0  0  1   
45  -1   Michael McDowell       616   -2784   16  0  0  0  0   
46  --   J.J. Yeley             545   -2855   9   0  0  0  0   
47  --   Boris Said             448   -2952   6   0  0  0  1   
48  --   Todd Bodine            273   -3127   6   0  0  0  0   
49  --   Robert Richardson Jr.  249   -3151   3   0  0  0  0   
50  +1   Landon Cassill         235   -3165   5   0  0  0  0   
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