A late incident involving Denny Hamlin allowed Kevin Harvick to emerge from Indianapolis with his fourth win of the NASCAR Cup Series season.
With the Colts, Pacers, and Fever on hiatus, Kevin Harvick was happy to provide Indianapolis with some late athletic heroics during the NASCAR Cup Series’ annual excursion to perhaps auto racing’s most hallowed ground.
Denny Hamlin led the race with eight laps to go, but when a lost tire slammed him into Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s wall, Harvick took advantage. Flanked by teammates from Stewart-Haas Racing, his No. 4 Ford held off fellow veteran and Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth over a two-lap shootout to win the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered By Big Machine Records.
The win was Harvick’s fourth of the 2020 season and his third in the 400-mile event at the track known as The Brickyard. He joins Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson as the only NASCAR drivers to win at least three times at IMS, which has hosted the Cup Series annually since 1994.
Harvick, who started the day in 11th via random draw, took his first lead of the day at Lap 17 of 160 in the midst of the race’s competition caution. Crew chief Rodney Childers brought the No. 4 down pit road shortly before the yellow flag waved.
The gambit paid off in more ways than one. Not only did Harvick take the lead when his competitors needed service, but he also avoided a pile-up at the narrow entrance that ended the day of several drivers including Ryan Preece, Corey LaJoie, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Zach Price, a tire-changer on Ryan Blaney’s pit crew, got pinched between his No. 12 Ford and Brennan Poole’s No. 15 in the chaos. Price was transported to a local hospital, but seemed to be in good spirits otherwise. NBC cameras showed him smiling and displaying the thumbs up as he was loaded into the ambulance.
William Byron took the first 50-lap stage, but Harvick fought back to take the second. It appeared that Harvick and Hamlin would once again be the drivers to beat after swapping the top-two spots during the doubleheader at Pocono last weekend. Over the final 60-lap segment, it appeared that would be how things shaped out. Hamlin would set himself up to take the lead from Harvick after pitting one lap before the No. 4. Kenseth, on a different pit cycle, would hold the lead from lap 123 through 134, when Alex Bowman lost a tire and hit the wall hard to bring out the caution.
Hamlin took the lead when Kenseth needed service during the Bowman caution and beat Harvick out on the ensuing restart. He had distanced himself from Harvick and Kenseth, who worked his way up to third, and seemed to be coasting toward his fifth victory of the year.
But going into the first turn, Hamlin lost a tire and took a hard hit to the wall, ending his chances at the win and setting up a two-lap, winner-take-all finish. Hamlin was one of several drivers who saw their days hampered or ended entirely due to tire issues, joining Bowman, Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, and Justin Allgaier.
Harvick assumed the lead next to Kenseth. Behind them were Harvick’s SHR teammates Aric Almirola and Cole Custer. He got off to a strong restart, aided by a strong push from the rookie Custer’s No. 41 Ford. From there, he was able to get into clean air and deny Kenseth his first Indianapolis title.
Kenseth has now finished in the Brickyard’s runner-up spot on four occasions. His second-place posting was nonetheless his best finish since taking over the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet from the fired Kyle Larson. Almirola would continue a hot streak in third, his fifth consecutive top-five finish. Brad Keselowski snuck into fourth, while Custer hung on to post first career Cup Series top five.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday afternoon for at Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart (2:30 p.m. ET, FS1).
- Sunday marked the first NASCAR Cup Series event without Jimmie Johnson since November 23, 2001, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Johnson, a seven-time Cup Series champion, was the first driver to test positive for COVID-19, though he has not experienced any symptoms. Allgaier is set to be the replacement driver until Johnson has two negative tests in a 24-hour span.
- Sunday saw a major shakeup toward the bottom of the NASCAR playoff standings. Byron and Jones held the final two playoff seeds (15th and 16th respectively) entering the race, followed by 17th-place Austin Dillon. Each stayed out to earn valuable stage points at the end of the first segment (won by Byron). Dillon was able to slightly take advantage of Byron and Jones’ wrecks. Despite being relegated to an 18th-place finish after wrecking with Matt DiBenedetto on the final lap, Dillon currently holds the final playoff spot, ahead of Jones by six points. Johnson, currently in 15th, is 36 points ahead of Jones.
- For the first time, IMS hosted NASCAR’s annual July 4th-weekend event. Daytona International Speedway’s 400-mile event had hosted the race from 1959 through last season. In another first, NASCAR also hosted shared a doubleheader with the IndyCar Series, which ran alongside the NASCAR Xfinity Series on the in-house road course on Saturday. Scott Dixon won the IndyCar event, while Chase Briscoe won his fifth Xfinity event of the season.
- Michael McDowell finished seventh in the mid-budget No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford. It’s McDowell’s second top-ten finish at a track other than Daytona or Talladega over the last three races after posting only one over his first dozen seasons.
- In addition to Custer, the top 15 finishers featured three other rookies, including Tyler Reddick (8th), Christopher Bell (12th), and John Hunter Nemechek (15th).
- Bubba Wallace (9th) tied his career-best with his third top-ten finish. He currently sits in 19th place in the standings, 42 points behind Dillon for the final playoff spot.
- Martin Truex Jr. (38th) drew the eighth starting spot but suffered engine trouble in the early stages. He was later involved in the pit road accident and retired his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after 16 laps.
For full results, click here
For full standings, click here
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags