FORT WORTH — Highlights of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, the second race of the third round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, at Texas Motor Speedway:
WINNER: Kevin Harvick passed Martin Truex Jr. with nine laps remaining and held onto the lead to take the checkered flag for his second win of the season and first at Texas. The victory for Harvick guarantees him a spot in the final four of the playoffs in two weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Truex finished second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.
“Damn it;s good to be in victory lane here in Texas,” said Harvick, the 2014 series champion. “I knew I had a really good car, and I knew I needed to do somethng different, and I started driving it into Turn 1 just a whole lot deeper. I saw (Larson) doing that earlier in the race, and I was just concerned that I didn’t have the brakes to continue doing that all day. So I waited until the end and was able to get on the outside of Martin.
“I’m real proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas racing.”
With his second-place finish, Truex has recorded enough points to also clinch a berth in the championship four. Truex and Harvick will be joined by Kyle Busch, who won last weekend at Martinsville. The final playoff spot will be awarded next weekend at Phoenix Raceway.
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JOHNSON’S FREE FALL: Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified ninth on Friday and was 12th-fastesst in the final practice on Saturday. Once the AAA Texas 500 started, however, he slowly began to drop further back in the field. He went two laps down after making an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 68 because of a vibration. He was scored three laps down well before the midpoint of the race. Johnson had won at this track a record seven times, the most recent victory coming in April. Johnson finished 27th and enters Phoenix in eighth place, 51 points outs of the fourth and final slot in the finals.
FLAMMABLE: With 51 laps remaining, Kyle Larson spun and crashed hard into the outside wall between Turns 1 and 2. The rear of Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet errupted in flames before the automatic exhaust system in the car put it out. For Larson, who was eliminated after the second round round of the playoffs when he blew an engine at Kansas Speedway, it is the third consecutive DNF after crashing last weekend at Martinsville.
“It’s frustrating because I knew I had the best car,” Larson said in a television interview. “I can’t wait for the last lap at Homestead.”
The crash and fire brought out a red flag that lasted 10 minutes.
EARNHARDT’S WOES: Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove his No. 88 Chevrolet to the garage with 90 laps remaining. Earnhardt, who scored his first career Cup Series victory on April 2, 2000 at this track, and whose final race here was promoted on several billboards in the area, said in a television interview that his car had an issue with a wheel hub, the part in the car where the wheel is bolted to the suspension.
Earnhardt, who announced earlier this season that he will retire from full-time racing at season’s end, returned to the track 30 laps down.
STAGE 2: Kyle Larson, who started 11th and worked his way up to third by the end of the first stage, secured the second stage win at Lap 170. Larson led the final 10 laps of the stage, which included two caution flags that totaled 10 laps. Larson led the most laps (72) through the first two stages.
STAGE 1: Kevin Harvick took the lead with 16 laps remaining in the first stage and held off Martin Truex Jr. to secure the stage that concluded on the 85th lap.
TROUBLE EARLY: Kyle Busch has nothing at stake in the final two races ahead of the finale Homestead-Miami Speedway since the Joe Gibbs Racing driver locked in a spot to compete for the championship with a victory at Martinsville last weekend. That didn’t mean had he had no impact on those vying for the three other spots among the final four drivers, including a driver he’s been feuding with for a while. Busch’s No. 18 Toyota rode up the track moments after the green flag dropped and clipped Brad Keselowski, who entered Texas third in the standings. The collision forced both drivers down pit lane.
Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford suffered a flat tire and had some minor rear damage. Busch’s crew pounded out damage to the front of his car. Keselowski, who began the race 10th, returned to the track a lap down. Busch went two laps down. Both drivers eventually made it back on the lead lap.
Busch said he would “kill that (expletive)” Keselowski after the two collided at Watkins Glen in August. In September, the two jousted on Twitter after Keselowski lamented the advantage of Toyota teams.
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