Brooklyn, Mich. — Kevin Harvick dominated the Consumers Energy 400 Sunday afternoon at the Michigan International Speedway, winning both stages and going on to win the race for his series-high seventh win of the season.
The 42-year-old Harvick celebrated the victory by letting his 6-year-old son Keelan go get the checkered flag and climb into his No. 4 Ford before making their way to Victory Lane.
While star drivers like Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have retired the past few years, Harvick is just enjoying life too much to think about it while driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, who he won the series championship for in 2014, his first year with the team.
“I think as you look at the year, you have to remember I spent a lot of years not having the most fun and not having the most success. Over the past five years, we’ve been able to win a lot of races and do a lot of things on the race track and win races and a championship, so it’s been an incredible amount of stuff and wins packed into almost five years now,” said Harvick, who has 21 wins in his five years at Stewart-Haas after earning 23 victories during his 13 years with Richard Childress Racing (2001-13).
“I’m just enjoying every moment because you never know when it’s going to go the other way.”
How dominant was Harvick? He led 108 of the 200 laps around the two-mile superspeedway, which is known as NASCAR’s fastest track, and beat Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski by more than three seconds. He prevented Keselowski from earning his first win of the season and his first career NASCAR Cup series win at MIS.
It was Harvick’s second win at MIS and his first since 2010 when he competed for Richard Childress Racing. And it felt so sweet after six runner-up finishes at the track since that win in 2010.
“It was pretty cool today, had the chance to celebrate together,” Harvick said of celebrating the win with his son. “He said, 'Daddy if you win I want to go across the track and get the checkered flag.' So it was pretty cool to be able to watch him do that.
“I told him you can go get the checkered flag, but you have to ride around with me on the victory lap. To be able to experience these types of things with him is just a dream come true."
Harvick has been a big part of NASCAR’s Big Three this season, joining Kyle Busch (six wins) and defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. (four) to win 17 of the first 23 races in the series.
“The most important thing right now is winning races, getting all the points you can get to position yourself to try to get to Homestead (to win the series championship),” said Harvick, who finished second to Stewart-Haas teammate Clint Bowyer back in June at MIS.
“We don’t want to learn anything, we don’t want to do anything differently. We just want to go out and win.”
Harvick’s seven wins in the first 23 races are the most since Busch won eight in the same span 10 years ago. It is also a career high for Harvick, who won five in his championship season of 2014 and also five for Richard Childress Racing in 2006.
Busch finished third and Truex Jr. 14th.
“It definitely seemed like whoever got out front could just kind of take off and if you were the fastest car like the No. 4 (Harvick) was, there was nobody that was going to be able to come close to you and do anything with you,” Busch said. “There were some moments there in that last run that once you got strung out, I mean everybody was eight lengths apart, eight lengths apart, eight lengths apart and you couldn’t get any closer than that.”
Harvick’s last big battle was his final pit stop with less than 30 laps left. He took four new tires and fuel.
Then, Austin Dillon — Harvick’s nearest competitor at the time — pitted and gambled, taking two new tires. He came back on the track ahead of Harvick with 23 laps remaining, but it didn’t take Harvick long to slip past him and go on to earn the win.
Dillon finished fourth.
Keselowski was encouraged by his second-place finish after struggling in recent weeks. He still is in great position to earn one of the 16 playoff spots by points, sitting seventh in the standings.
“The last few weeks we’ve had some pretty big struggles finishing out races with breakdowns, letdowns and all of the above, so it was nice to just have a clean race and kind of get the finish we deserve, and that’s important to get what you have out of your car,” Keselowski said. “Although we might not have race winning speed, you still need to execute. With that in mind that’s just good for everybody’s morale at Team Penske and on the No. 2 team as well, but of course we want to break though and win as well.
“We’re not where we need to be to just win on pure speed against those guys week in and week out so we have to find it.”
The race had two caution stretches before it was 15 laps old. The first one came when Michigan native Erik Jones got loose in Turn 4 on Lap 8, which left him spinning and getting into the grass while suffering little to no damage to his No. 20 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jones, who had six finishes of seventh place or better in his previous seven races, finished 13th.
Truex was involved in the second caution when rookie William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro moved up the track and into Truex’s left side, sending Truex’s No. 78 Toyota spinning.
Truex came back to lead 25 laps, but ran out of fuel near the end of Stage 2 and entered pit lane while the pits were closed to force a penalty.