If it wasn’t clear last weekend at Michigan, it’s clear now: Kevin Harvick is back.
The 46-year-old driver won his second-straight Cup race on Sunday, proving that last weekend’s win was a sign that one of NASCAR’s most accomplished drivers is in top form — and that Harvick, despite a disappointing beginning to 2022, is still worthy of his long-held nickname, “The Closer.”
In his post-race discussion with NBC, fresh off a celebratory burn-out in front of fans at the finish line, Harvick was asked if he saw back-to-back victories in his future prior to Sunday. The win, after all — in a strange way and in this strange season — might’ve even been more unexpected than the victory that broke his 65-race winless streak last week.
But Harvick shrugged and offered a by-the-book response: “I didn’t know,” he said and laughed. “Like I said last week, the cars have been running well week-in and week-out.”
The former Cup Series champion snatched the lead on Lap 335 out of 400, clearing Joey Logano on the outside. (It had been Logano’s race to lose up until then; he’d led 222 laps.)
And once he obtained the lead, he didn’t relinquish it. Chris Buescher took the veteran driver to task down the stretch, but Harvick didn’t make any mistakes, passing and weaving through lapped cars as if it was 2014 again, holding the lead.
He extended his lead to 1.7 seconds at one point, and that lead shrunk with one final push from Christopher Bell, but it was too late: Harvick crossed the finish line first and thus notched his first win at Richmond Raceway in nine years and his 60th Cup series win in his storied career.
“I knew he was coming,” Harvick said of Bell. “But I forgot to shift down the front straightaway. ... I was not paying attention, and he got closer than he should’ve, so I made a mistake there in those last couple laps.”
He won anyway.
Bell finished second in the No. 20 car, Buescher placed third in the No. 17.
The rest of the top-10 earning points in order: Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney.
“We’re just going to keep doing the things that we’re doing right,” Harvick said. “I just think that we have to keep an open mind about things, keep progressing and keep understanding the car, understanding what we could’ve done better today... And just keep doing the same thing over and over.”
Playoff implications for Truex Jr., Blaney
The coverage leading up to the Cup race at Richmond Raceway focused on Blaney and Truex.
Blaney entered Sunday second in points but was without a win and thus right on the 16-driver playoff edge. Truex entered fourth in points and on the outside of the playoff picture looking in — and he even admitted pre-race that this was probably his best chance to earn a win in the 2022 regular season.
But neither could bring to life a victory, and thus their playoff hopes are still up in the air.
Truex persevered after a difficult race, battling car issues and even getting caught in some carnage early in Stage 3. He finished seventh. Blaney finished 10th.
Logano remains second in points (with 766) and the only driver without a win in the 16-driver playoff picture. Truex remains fourth in points (740).
Chris Buescher’s impressive run: Is he a dark horse playoff candidate?
With two regular-season races to go, every race poses the possibility for a new winner and thus more chaos.
Should Buescher be in that discussion?
The Roush Fenway Keselowski driver of the No. 17 car put together an impressive run on Sunday. For a moment, while Harvick and Logano were busy fighting for first, it looked like Buescher could sneak around them and obtain the lead late.
He ultimately finished third and said post-race that he feels good heading into the final two races at Watkins Glen and then Daytona.
“It’s a little easy with this format to think that third-place doesn’t matter,” Buescher said, “but it’s nice to be close, and to keep progressing, getting better as we’ve gotten through the summer.”
Other observations from Richmond
▪ Ty Gibbs had to exit the race about midway through Stage 2 reportedly because of engine troubles. Sunday marked the first Cup race the 19-year-old driver didn’t finish after making his debut four weeks ago in Kurt Busch’s stead.
▪ Sunday saw 16 lead changes, nine different leaders and five cautions for 28 laps. Logano led a race-high 222 laps. Chastain led 80, Harvick led 55 and Kyle Larson (who won the pole position) led 11.
Logano on his day: “I think as the sun went down and it cooled off, we lost some turn on our car. Kevin and some others got a lot better those last couple runs of the race. ... Overall, we got a stage win, playoff point, and that’s something to be proud of. Just stinks that we led 222 laps, just not the right one.”
▪ Kyle Busch finished ninth despite being a part of the biggest wreck of the day. He said in jest that his team was “the victim” of Chastain this week, but that ultimately the incident didn’t hurt his race and that a top-10 finish was about what he expected.
Official results from Richmond
Per NASCAR, inspection in the NASCAR Cup Series garage is complete, and there were no issues. The No. 17 and No. 23 car are going back to the R&D Center for teardown.
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.