Harvick’s win complicates NASCAR playoff berths in recent weeks

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — NASCAR has gotten more interesting over time.

Kevin Harvick won his first Cup race in nearly two years at Michigan International Speedway over the weekend – a result that could mean a driver with a win gets knocked out of the playoffs.

“It’s creating a big bubble,” Harvick said Sunday. “I think some of these guys who won races that hadn’t been very good, it creates a real scenario where there could be at least 16 winners. There’s still a lot of things that can happen.”

With just three races left in the regular season – the next one being Sunday at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, and time is running out to secure a spot in the 16-driver playoffs.

Fifteen different drivers have won races this year. If there are two new winners in the final weeks at Richmond, Watkins Glen or Daytona, anyone with a win will be eliminated from the playoffs on a points tiebreaker.

Martin Truex Jr. is No. 4 in points, but he doesn’t have a win and desperately needs one to earn a spot in the Round of 16 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. Ryan Blaney is second in points, but he too is winless.

If they both get a first-place finish in a race, someone like Austin Cindric or Chase Briscoe could stay home next month.

“We’re running 19 (Cindric) – obviously for the points – and trying to win the race,” Blaney said after making a late pass to finish fifth.

No one was able to catch Harvick in his #4 Ford after a restart with 35 laps to go at the FireKeepers Casino 400. Bubba Wallace might have had the best chance of competing with Harvick, but he chose a path for the Toyota #23 which he later lamented.

“I want to win so badly, and this was the best opportunity,” Wallace said after finishing second after his first career pole.

Harvick, meanwhile, won his 59th career Cup and ended a 65-race drought that began after winning his ninth race in the 2020 playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I’ve been through longer winless streaks,” he said with a shrug.

It’s a fact: Harvick’s longest streak is 115 runs from 2007 to 2010.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver went to Michigan sitting 17th in points and came away in ninth place. It was his sixth overall victory on the two-mile oval. The 46-year-old insisted he didn’t need the latest result to boost his confidence.

“Maybe I’m overconfident,” he said. “I expect to win until the door closes.”

Ford certainly needed reassurances that it could win with the Next Gen car, given that Chevrolet topped the series with 13 wins, including four for points leader Chase Elliott.

Harvick gave Ford its first Cup win in two months and fifth of the season to tie for second place with Toyota.

“We just have to keep pushing and trying to run with these (top) guys and we did that,” said Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers. “If we can do that in the playoffs and be consistent and get through a round or two, we can make some noise.”

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