Kevin Harvick closes regular season with second Brickyard 400 victory

Kevin Harvick dominated the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard on Sunday to claim his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season and his second-career Brickyard 400 win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“This is great, just got to say thanks to all the fans,” Harvick said. “Can’t tell you how much coming to Indianapolis [meant] to me as a kid. I watched Rick Mears win Indy 500s and got to be around him as a kid, and he was my hero. So coming here and winning here is pretty awesome.”

Joey Logano finished second to give Ford a one-two sweep.

Darrell Wallace Jr. finished third for his second-career top-five. William Byron was fourth, and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five.

Sunday’s race was the 26th and final race of the 2019 regular season to set the 16-driver playoff field. Four drivers -- Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson -- contended for the remaining two unclaimed playoff berths. Bowyer headed into the race 15th in the standings, highest among the four. He also wound up ahead of the other three playoff contenders after finishing the race ahead of all three of them. Suarez and Newman headed into Indy in a points tie but Suarez provisionally in 16th by virtue of a tie-breaker. Newman, though, took the final playoff spot away from Suarez by finishing higher than him in Sunday’s race. Newman finished eighth to Suarez’s 11th.

Suarez got into the wall, bringing out the first caution of the race on lap 11, after contact from Newman. He, then, got caught a lap down after pitting under green just before the yellow flag waved for Kyle Larson on lap 128. But he got back on the lead lap during the caution.

Johnson had trouble early, making two stops during the first caution when miscommunication on the first stop kept his team from completing its stop before Johnson puled out of his pit box. The miscommunication came amid a pit-road incident that involved Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Matt DiBenedetto, Wallace, Martin Truex Jr. and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He recovered to get back toward the front and led laps during a pit cycle before he hit the wall in an incident on lap 105 that also involved Paul Menard, Daniel Hemric and Kurt Busch. Johnson’s involvement retired the four-time Brickyard 400 winner from the race and took him out of playoff contention.

“Yeah, it’s really disappointing,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we had a bad 25 races that led to the position we’re in here today, and we needed a stellar day. I think we were having a strong day. I’m really proud of my team with what’s been going on. The #1 car [Busch] had a little trouble on the restart. I’m on the inside going into the corner, and it was just super tight. It’s unfortunate that happened. Certainly, it’s not what we needed on that restart. I couldn’t go below the white line and kind of got snipped, there, and turned around and around and around we go.”

Johnson was one of multiple former Brickyard winners to suffer severe problems Sunday. Last year’s top-two finishers, winner Brad Keselowski and runner-up Erik Jones, wrecked on lap 49, resulting in the third caution of the race.

“We had new tires, and we were racing some cars that didn’t have new tires and wanted to make the pass, there, and got real tight to the 48 [Johnson] and lost the nose in the air. I was trying to leave room and probably came down on Erik more than I thought I did, and he got real loose. No air on my car. I hit the wall, there. There is this spot on the wall with just an atrocious angle. I don't know what that spot is for, but it does not need to be there, but we found it. That is how racing goes. We find the things. This track really was part of the safety revolution about 15-20 years ago, and I think it is time for another.”

Two-time race winner Kyle Busch blew his engine for the fourth caution on lap 89.

“We just left pit road, and we were just coming up through the gears,” Busch said. “Everything was fine. We got to fourth. We made it all the way to turn two on the apron, there, and then tried to blend up in traffic, and it just let go. I don’t know. We weren’t as good as we wanted to be, where we thought we could run with those guys. We were definitely struggling in the long run, similar to yesterday [in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race]. We thought we qualified a little better than we should, and I guess that’s probably why we weren’t quite there for the long haul and keeping downforce in the car, I guess. Just too tight, overall. I thought we were going to have a solid third to fifth, something like that, anyways, and try to come out of here with some points or some momentum going into the playoffs, but we are stuck here. Once it blew up, it knocked the brakes out of it, so I couldn’t stop coming to pit road, so I couldn’t get out of everyone’s way and not cause a caution. So sorry about that.”

Busch has already clinched the 2019 regular-season championship a week earlier at Darlington Raceway.

Ryan Blaney was the only driver to pass Harvick on the race track to lead laps, doing so on a lap-112 restart. Harvick, though, pitted under green on lap 128 and got out of the pits just before a yellow flag, managing to stay on the lead lap. After the other lead-lap cars pitted during the caution, Harvick cycled back to the front.

“I don’t know if we had the best car, but we had the fastest car,” Harvick said. “We gave up the lead, there, on one of those restarts, and then, we came and pitted, and the caution came out, and it worked our way. We’ve given so many away just because of circumstances here, and the way that the caution flag fell today actually worked in our favor. It gave us control of the race, and we were able to keep control of the race and not make any mistakes, and here we are in victory lane at one of the greatest places on earth to race.”

Blaney slid back to fourth on lap 140, just after a restart and wound up seventh at the finish. When Blaney lost second, Logano moved into the spot to challenge Harvick for the lead. He was able to stay beside Harvick in the first couple of turns after the final restart, but Harvick was able to get out in front of him and pull away in the final 10 laps.

Logano first led after a lap-42 caution for Landon Cassill by staying out. He won the opening 50-lap stage a few laps later.

After Logano and some other drivers pitted, Kyle Larson was up front for the restart to begin the second stage. But when the race returned to green, Harvick returned tot he lead. Harvick’s dominant performance of 118 laps-led included a stage win at lap 100.

Denny Hamlin finished sixth after starting the race in the back in a backup car because of a fiery practice crash Saturday. Other top-10 finishers included Elliott in ninth and Paul Menard in 10th.