BROOKLYN, Mich. – Just looking at the box score, one would think that Kevin Harvick’s win in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan Int’l Speedway was a walk in the park.
After all, the 2014 champion led four times for 90 of 156 laps en route to his sixth victory of the year.
However, that triumph didn’t come without a hefty challenge from Harvick’s season-long rival – Denny Hamlin – during the closing laps of the 312-mile contest at the two-mile speedway.
Following a restart with 15 laps to go, Hamlin charged up to second and looked like he would be able to muster the lone challenge all weekend to Harvick’s nearly-bulletproof No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford.
He dogged Harvick and closed in on the rear bumper of the Bakersfield, Calif., native inside of five laps to go from a second back, taking a shot to the inside in turns one and two with three circuits left in an effort to deny Harvick in the Irish Hills.
Harvick was too strong, though, ultimately motoring back away down the home stretch to continue his dominance of the 2020 season and sweep a Cup Series doubleheader weekend at Michigan.
Sunday’s victory was Harvick’s second Cup Series win in as many days, marking the first time since Richard Petty won back-to-back in New York state at Albany-Saratoga Speedway and Islip Speedway in July of 1971 that one driver won races in NASCAR’s premier series on consecutive days.
It was also the 55th checkered flag of his Cup Series career, tying Harvick with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace for 10th on the all-time win list.
“That was a big challenge,” noted Harvick in victory lane. “Our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang got really tight there in three and four. I could run really good through one and two still, but I was just tight on that other end all day. I’ve just got to thank all my guys. They did a great job all weekend on pit road. Great pit calls.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve raced back-to-back days let alone in the Cup car. I’ve never accomplished that obviously, but we’ve done that a couple times this year, so I think for us it’s worked out pretty well. We’re hoping it goes the same way at Dover when we go there in a couple of weeks.”
Hamlin tried to take a final stab at Harvick coming to the checkered flag, with a big run off the outside lane exiting turn four, but came up .093 seconds short at the stripe of victory in his own right.
After the race, Hamlin lamented a bit of a lack in speed but also showed plenty of respect to Harvick and the rival Stewart-Haas Racing team in his post-race comments.
“Once we finally got to second, I knew we had something for him (Harvick) … I just got stalled there,” Hamlin said. “He was tight, I was tight, but we were better, I feel like. He just had the track position and could control the lanes there better. I wish I had turns one and two to do over when we both lifted (with three to go) … I should have faked low and gone high, but I thought I could get to his quarter panel and shove him higher and just couldn’t quite get to him to side draft.
“There’s no question that he and I push each other,” Hamlin added. “One of the restarts, I think I was (running) fifth and I pulled right up to the (No.) 4 and revved my engine beside him, just to give him a little exhaust fumes. (laughter) I have tremendous respect for everyone on that team, though. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve gotten wiser and grown to really appreciate what the other does on the race track. They’re having a great year too.”
Fellow Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch trailed Hamlin in third and fourth, respectively, with Joey Logano’s Team Penske-prepared Ford filling out the top five.
Sixth through 10th were Aric Almirola, who led laps during the final stage after a miscue on pit road; Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch.
The elder Busch brother fended off the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jimmie Johnson and William Byron in a three-wide fight to the finish line for the final position inside the top 10.
Sunday’s last restart was set up after the carcass from a flat tire on Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet shot onto the racing groove as Bowman ducked to pit road, leading to a yellow flag with 20 laps to go.
Prior to that, the first two stages ran uninterrupted to the planned stage breaks at laps 40 and 85, before a crash between Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney while fighting for the lead in turns one and two led to the first caution for incident on lap 96.
A lap-105 spin by Christopher Bell was the only other slowdown and the fourth of five yellows Sunday.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues Aug. 16 with the inaugural event on the 3.57-mile road course configuration at Daytona Int’l Speedway, which annually hosts the Rolex 24 endurance classic.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.