BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — NASCAR just got more interesting down the stretch.
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 who has a win getting knocked out of the playoffs.
“It creates a big bubble," Harvick said Sunday. “I think some of those guys that have won races that hadn’t been doing very good, it creates a real scenario to where there could be at least 16 winners. There’s a lot of things that can still happen."
Just three races remain in the regular season— the next being Sunday at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, and time is running out to secure a spot in the 16-driver postseason.
Fifteen different drivers have won races this year. If there are two new winners in the final weeks at Richmond, Watkins Glen or Daytona, someone with one win will be eliminated from the playoff based on a tiebreaker on points.
Martin Truex Jr. is No. 4 in points, but he does not 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 without a victory.
Should they both land a first-place finish at a race, someone like Austin Cindric or Chase Briscoe could be staying at home next month.
“We're racing 19 (Cindric) — obviously for points — and try to win the race," Blaney said after making a late pass to finish fifth.
No one could catch Harvick in his No. 4 Ford following a restart with 35 laps to go at the FireKeepers Casino 400. Bubba Wallace had maybe the best chance to compete with Harvick, but he choose a path for the No. 23 Toyota that he later lamented.
“I want to win so bad, and this was the best opportunity," Wallace said after finishing second following his first career pole.
Harvick, meanwhile, won his 59th career Cup event and ended a 65-race drought that started after winning his ninth race during the 2020 playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I’ve been through longer winless streaks," he said with a shrug.
That's a fact: Harvick's longest streak is 115 races from 2007 to 2010.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver went to Michigan sitting at No. 17 in points and left in ninth place. It was his sixth win overall at 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 assurances it could win with the Next Gen car, considering Chevrolet has dominated the series with 13 victories, including four for points leader Chase Elliott.
Harvick gave Ford its first Cup win in two months and fifth of the season to pull into a second-place tie with Toyota.
“We just have to keep pushing and try to run with those (top) guys and we have," Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers said. “If we can do that in the playoffs and be consistent and get through a round or two, we can make some noise."