Sunday afternoon’s race (11/11/18) started with just one driver knowing for sure he would be racing for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Joey Logano won the first race in the Round of Eight to lock himself into the season finale race with a shot at the championship. Kevin Harvick did win the second race of the round. However, post-race inspection revealed a rule violation in his spoiler. The penalty for that violation was a point deduction and taking his automatic advance to the Championship Four away.
That meant seven drivers would race to fill three available spots in the Championship Four. Each driver of the seven had a different path to advancing. A few were in a must win situation. Others could advance without winning depending on what driver did win the race.
Kevin Harvick was one of the drivers that did not have to win the race to advance (although his point loss for the rule violation required him needing more points to clinch without a win). However, he has been dominant at the track in recent years winning eight of the last 12 races in the NASCAR Cup Series at the track including the first race of 2018 at ISM Raceway. He looked as though he would be the one to clinch his advance with the win early in the race. He earned the pole starting position and led the first 72 laps in the race. Kevin had a tire blow out with just two laps remaining in the first stage of the race. That forced him to pit road while it was closed. Kevin would have to battle back from the incident and penalty for pitting when he did to have a chance to advance.
When Kevin had the blown tire it would open the door for Chase Elliott who had a strong car and needed the win to advance. He was able to claim the win and bonus points at the end of stage one of the race.
The door was also opened for other championship contenders like Kurt Busch and his brother Kyle as a result of Kevin’s misfortune. That incident also opened the possibility for non-contender Denny Hamlin to contend for the win to keep his streak of at least one year alive. Kyle Busch was able to capitalize and win stage two of the race to claim the bonus points and improve his odds of advancing to the Championship Four.
Throughout the race there would be other incidents that would change the potential outlook of the race and therefore the outlook for the Championship Four. There were 10 caution periods during the race. The most significant was after a late race incident when Denny Hamlin got into Kurt Busch on a restart. The resulting crash would take both Kurt and Chase Elliott out of contention for the win and eliminate their chances to advance to the Championship Four.
Following that final caution period of the race, Kyle Busch took the lead and kept it for the final laps of the race to give him a race high 116 laps led in the 312 lap race. Prior to winning the race Kyle had acquired enough points to clinch his spot in the Championship Four. However, the win gives him momentum for his team heading to the final race of the season.
Brad Keselowski finished in second place with Kyle Larson claiming third place. Aric Almirola scored a fourth place finish. Kevin Harvick rebounded from his early race incident and penalty to finish in fifth place. See the complete race results for the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway here.
Kyle winning the race was a benefit for Kevin Harvick as it allowed him to advance to the Championship Four on points. If Chase Elliott or Kurt Busch would have won the race Kevin would have been below the cut line. Martin Truex Jr. also was able to advance based on points.
By: Buck Stevens