The NASCAR Monster Energy Series made their way to Michigan International Speedway for the first of two races during the weekend. Today’s race is the debut of the “choose rule” for a points-paying Monster Energy Series race that had debuted with the Truck Series on Friday night in what would prove to be a big race for Kevin Harvick.
Shortly after 2:00 pm PST, and under sunny skies, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin led the field to the green. Logano was able to pull ahead with the lead, followed by Hamlin with Aric Almirola in third. With an assist from a slow car, Hamlin was able to catch and get side-by-side with Logano, challenging for the lead. Logano kept Hamlin at bay as the competition caution flew at Lap 15. The front-runners stayed out during the caution while lead-lap cars in the back made their way to pit road.
Similar to the start, Logano led the field back to green with Hamlin to his inside. Benefitting from a strong push by Tyler Reddick, Hamlin took the lead with Logano in second. While entering Turn Three, Martin Truex Jr. slowed with a flat, right-front tire. While Truex Jr. got to the pits to change his tire, Kevin Harvick took the lead from Hamlin with a pass to his inside. Harvick crossed the finish line first at the conclusion on Lap 40, taking the green-and-white checkered flag. With the pits open, all lead lap cars came down for service. Hamlin exited first with Harvick in second.
Denny Hamlin, with Brad Keselowski to his inside, brought the field back to green to begin Stage Two. Hamlin was able to maintain the lead with Harvick in second as Keselowski fell to fourth, behind Ryan Blaney. Blaney got a huge run and got around Harvick and Hamlin to assume to lead.
With less than ten laps left in the stage, Harvick used a lap car to his advantage and got to the inside of Blaney. Harvick took the lead away and set sail as the stage neared to a close. Picking up where he led off from Stage One, Harvick took Stage Two. Harvick brought the field down pit road for fuel and tires; he was able to keep the lead when exiting, followed by Hamlin.
Stage Three began with Harvick leading and Hamlin in second, to his inside. Though initially pushed to the lead, Hamlin fell back to second with Harvick in front. Lap 94 brought the first caution for an incident, as John Hunter Nemechek and Chris Buescher got together, resulting in Nemechek spinning through the infield grass.
Harvick and Hamlin restarted the race with 58 laps to go. Nemechek brought out the fifth caution of the day as he spun through the infield grass again with 50 laps left in the race. All lead-lap cars came down pit road, with varying strategies occurring. Kyle Busch exited the pits first as he took fuel only.
Pushed by Erik Jones, Kyle Busch surged to the lead as Harvick followed closely behind. Not able to hold back the inevitable, Kyle Busch relinquished the lead to Harvick one lap later. Taking a page from Matt Kenseth last week at New Hampshire, John Hunter Nemechek brought out the third caution in a row with 26 laps left in the race. Though most of the lead lap cars stayed out, Blaney and Logano came to the pits for tires and fuel.
Harvick led the field back to green with 18 laps left in the as Chase Elliott lined up to the inside. Brad Keselowski, in fourth, shoved Chase Elliott to the front, ahead of Harvick and Kyle Busch. The caution came out as Ryan Preece smacked the wall coming out of Turn Two as there were 14 laps left in the race.
Chase Elliott chose the outside lane with nine laps left as Kyle Busch restarted on his inside. Busch cleared Elliott with Harvick chomping at the bit. Harvick dove to the inside got Busch loose, and Harvick took back the lead with Busch falling back. The caution flew not long after, though, as Cole Custer backed his car into the outside wall. Due to fluid on the track, and the number of laps left, the race was red-flagged.
After clean up, Harvick lined up on the outside with Hamlin to the inside, restarted the race with three laps remaining. Harvick was able to hold the lead as another caution came out as Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman collided coming out of Turn Four with two laps left. As the race had not reached the final lap, the FireKeepers Casino 400 prepared for NASCAR’s overtime.
Under NASCAR’s overtime rules, there is to be two green flag laps run. Leading the race, Harvick chose the outside line while Brad Keselowski took the inside lane. Harvick and Keselowski had a spirited battle, but Kevin Harvick forged ahead and was able to take the checkered flag.
The stars of the Monster Energy Cup Series provided a good show for the viewers. Even though Kevin Harvick swept all three stages, the race never felt like a runaway. Harvick was top of the, dominated the field, and earned this victory. What were your thoughts on today’s race?
Tomorrow brings the second race of this double-header weekend at Michigan International Speedway.