Kevin Harvick lived up to an old nickname of “The Closer” on Sunday at Bristol, taking command in the second half of the race and leading the final seventy-one laps to notch his second victory of the season. The race ended some twenty-three hours after it originally started on Saturday night, when just forty-eight laps were run before rain moved in and pushed the event to a late-afternoon green flag on Sunday. Kyle Busch started third and was dominant throughout the first half of the race, leading 184 of the first 250 laps. But what appeared to be a broken part on the suspension of his Number-18 Toyota sent the car spinning across the track. Contact from Justin Allgaier ended Busch’s day with a thirty-ninth-place finish. Harvick entered the fray soon after, charging from his Number-24 starting spot to grab his first lead at Lap-286 of five hundred. Harvick ran consistently among the top five the rest of the way, passing Denny Hamlin seventy-one laps from the finish and never looking back to record his thirty-third career win – loosening Joe Gibbs Racing’s tight hold on short-track competition in 2016. Before Sunday, J-G-R had won all three races run on ovals less than one mile in length … Harvick’s margin of victory over runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Junior was two seconds with Hamlin finishing third, Austin Dillon fourth and rookie Chris Buescher fifth – which lifted him into thirtieth place in the point standings as he now becomes eligible for a post-season Chase berth with his win at Pocono earlier this month.
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Next stop Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola, the seventeenth round of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Although there were two practice sessions scheduled for Thursday, thunderstorms moved into the area which red flagged the first session and canceled the second. Only eight cars were able to make it on track before the rain fell. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. posted the fastest lap of the eight drivers, with a speed of 191.014 miles per hour. Kurt Busch (6th) was the only driver to record more than one lap on the speedway before the weather moved over the track. Following a long battle of drying the track and waiting for lightning to clear the area, NASCAR was forced to postpone Sprint Cup Series final practice until today at 8:30 am.
Next stop, Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600, which marks the halfway point of the 2016 regular season. Martin Truex Junior will start the four hundred-lap marathon from the pole position after topping Thursday night’s qualifying session with a lap of 192.328 miles per hour in the Number-78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota. He’ll share the front row with Joey Logano, who was second-quick at 192.007 miles per hour. Ricky Stenhouse Junior qualified third with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski – Logano’s Team Penske teammate – rounding out the top five. Defending race winner Carl Edwards will start ninth. It’s Truex’s ninth career pole and second this season. He qualified Number-1 at Kansas Speedway earlier this month and finished fourteenth in the Go Bowling 400.
The pole sitter has won the “Six Hundred” just twice over the last seventeen years, both times by Jimmie Johnson – in 2004 and 2014 … Earlier on Thursday, Kurt Busch led opening practice with Johnson, Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson filling positions two through five. Kyle Busch had the best average speed over ten consecutive laps at 185.465 miles per hour … Logano is hoping to complete a sweep of the May events in Charlotte. He won last weekend’s All-Star Race.
The last driver to win both in the same season is Kurt Busch in 2010.
Nick Sandler, crew chief on Ricky Stenhouse Junior’s Number-17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, has been suspended for one race, fined twenty thousand dollars and placed on probation through December 31st. An unapproved coupler was found on Stenhouse’s steering wheel during opening-day inspection last weekend at Richmond International Raceway.
Jimmie Johnson charged past Kevin Harvick coming out of an overtime restart and pulled away from the field Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, becoming the first repeat winner of the 2016 season. Johnson’s margin of victory was three-quarters of a second over Harvick, giving Chevrolet a sweep of the top two spots. Denny Hamlin came home third with Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Junior completing the top five. Johnson started nineteenth and led just twenty-five laps, including the final two trips around the two- mile Southern California oval. Sunday’s race was extended five laps beyond its scheduled distance due to a late caution brought about when Kyle Busch shredded a right-front tire. That was the last thing Harvick wanted to see.
He had led nearly three-quarters of the laps run to that point and seemed well on his way to a second straight victory on NASCAR’s three-race swing through the western United States, having won last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Instead, Harvick settled for second place behind Johnson – who notched his seventy-seventh Cup Series win and sixth at Auto Club Speedway.
For Harvick, all was not lost as he claimed sole possession of the points lead. He entered the weekend tied for first place with Busch and exits with an eleven-point advantage over Johnson, who advances from third to second.
Busch finished twenty-fifth on Sunday, the first time in five races this year that he’s been outside the top five, and slipped to fifth in the regular-season standings … Sunday’s race included twenty-six lead changes among eight drivers. There were six cautions for thirty-three laps.
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