CAMBRIDGE TWP. — Maybe it was a familiar sight, with four of the last five NASCAR Cup Series races in Michigan ending with the No. 4 Ford churning up a mountain of smoke on victory lane.
And maybe it was a familiar feeling for Kevin Harvick, certainly not unaccustomed to winning anywhere, much less the two-mile intermediate course outside Brooklyn.
But, hey, some things don’t get old. Just ask Harvick.
“I’ve been through longer winless streaks,” he said. “It’s fun to go through it with the same group of guys when you finally pop out of it and you’re like ‘whew, all that work…’
“Feels pretty good.”
Harvick grabbed the lead with 35 laps to go and grew it to an insurmountable deficit to win the Firekeepers Casino 400. The 15th different driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series event this season, his performance on Sunday marked the sixth victory of his career at MIS and broke a 65-race winless streak.
Harvick led from the top as one of three Ford drivers to finish in the top-five, a particular source of ire for Toyota after it placed all six of its drivers in the top 11 of the qualifying round.
Bubba Wallace was one of those drivers, finishing nearly five seconds behind Harvick for second place. Despite having one, if not the, fastest cars all weekend and continuing a career-best streak of four top-10 finishes in a row, Wallace was disappointed with how he closed his time in Michigan.
“We get to go into Richmond with the momentum still on our side,” he said. “I’m just bummed we didn’t win the race.”
Denny Hamlin finished third as the only other Toyota in the top ten, with Ford’s Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounding out the top five. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Michigan-native Erik Jones, Alex Bowman and Ty Gibbs closed out the top ten in another unpredictable NASCAR Cup Series race this season.
After rain delayed the start of the race by 90 minutes, pole-sitter Wallace led the first 20 laps as Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell trailed behind him in second, third and fourth, respectively.
Wallace fell out of the lead for the first time after electing to pit during a competition caution while Bell and Erik Jones stayed out to form the front row. Truex Jr. and Hamlin soared up a combined nine spots to trail them in third and fourth place as they rounded Turn 4 heading into the restart.
With the green flag back waving in the air, Bell blew out of Turn 2 for sole possession of first place – only to be slowed by yet another caution. J.J. Yeley spun out just behind the frontrunners, leading to the first multi-car wreck of the weekend.
All told, Yeley, Kyle Busch, Aric Armiola, Austin Cindric and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. suffered significant enough damage to end their days at the track without facing any bodily harm. The wreck continued a particularly disheartening stretch of eight straight races without a top-10 finish for Busch after being wedged in the wall.
Bell led the way out of the restart in Lap 31 as Hamlin muscled out Jones for second place. With a sizable gap between them and the rest of the field, the three opted to forego their expected pitstops and Bell finished ahead for the 45-lap Stage 1 win.
Stage 2 surprised early and often, with Xfinity Series driver Ty Gibbs leading under the caution flag at Lap 49. Racing in place of a concussed Kurt Busch, Gibbs was quickly overtaken by Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson out of the restart and ended up falling to third.
From there, Bell maneuvered his way back into the fold, passing Gibbs and Larson to trail only Chastain around midpoint of Stage 2. Hamlin started to make some serious noise by besting Bell for second place before firing out of Turn 2 for sole possession of first by Lap 80.
The fifth different leader of the race, Hamlin quickly fell to 13th after pitting at Lap 95. Bell returned to the front of the pack briefly with Jones passing him for his first lead of the day.
Given the timing, Jones needed a caution to stay up top and he got one when one of Cris Custer’s front tires popped and his wheel well was engulfed in flames. The Byron native maintained his lead under the yellow flag before Hamlin overcame Harvick for top positioning out of the restart with 15 laps left in Stage 2.
After Noah Gragson sustained damage to the front of his car, Hamlin had to work through yet another restart, this time with Daniel Suarez looking to strike from second. Hamlin pulled away from Suarez with minimal trouble over the remaining seven laps to win Stage 2 and seal up a share of playoff points.
Suarez took an early lead in Stage 3 with Bell and Chastain running hot right behind him. Hamlin wasted no time making up ground, surging from 14th to fourth place in nearly 25 laps as the top three began to tighten their stronghold.
Hamlin turned in some of his fastest laps of the day to beat out Bell for third place and but was faced with overcoming two teammates in Suarez and Chastain as they looked to protect Suarez’s lead.
Meanwhile, Wallace started to regain his form and stayed outside a top-five of Suarez, Chastain, Hamlin, Bell and Harvick with 50 laps to go.
Bell tried to maneuver around Chastain and hit the wall, forcing another caution as the race wore on. Hamlin, Wallace and Larson were the top three off pit road midway through the final stage but Hamlin was forced to drop back after taking a penalty for too many men in his pit stop.
And like that, Harvick found himself in the lead out of the final restart with just under 35 laps to go. Wallace stayed hot on his heels before falling behind Logano with Hamlin continuing to push his way up through the ranks.
Wallace managed to finally beat pull ahead of Logano with 18 laps to go but by then, it was too late. Harvick turned in a vintage close, running hot to the Firekeepers Casino 400 victory with no chance of any driver catching him outside of a caution.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Harvick takes Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway