The Closer is The Champion: Kevin Harvick wins at Homestead to claim 1st Sprint Cup title

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One week after winning at Phoenix to enter the final battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, Kevin Harvick has done it again – this time, for all the marbles.

Harvick held off fellow title contender Ryan Newman in a three-lap dash to win the Ford Ecoboost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and his first career Cup title – an electrifying finish to a Chase that delivered time and again in terms of excitement, intensity and surprises.

“This new format has been so stressful,” Harvick admitted after winning the crown. “The racing has been phenomenal. I’m going to sleep for a week.”

A late pit call from crew chief Rodney Childers proved to be the difference. Under caution with 20 laps to go, Harvick took four tires and fell all the way back to 12th.

Harvick said post-race that he thought he was in big trouble after that. But on the restart with 15 to go, he climbed up to sixth position before another yellow came out just two laps later.

Then on the next restart with nine laps left, Harvick roared all the way to second in one lap before passing another of the Championship 4, Denny Hamlin, for the race lead with seven laps left.

Newman passed Hamlin for second before debris brought out the final yellow with six to go and set up the last sprint to glory. While Hamlin failed to get going from third place at the drop of the green flag, Harvick held the lead on the outside against Newman, and eventually came home with the biggest victory of his career.

It’s even more sweet considering that Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team was essentially built from scratch last winter, and then went through a trying 2014 regular season that saw them win twice but make lots of mistakes that cost them even more victories.

But in the Chase, everything came together for the 4 camp, which celebrated three wins in the final six races of the year.

“They gave us all the resources that we needed,” Harvick said of team co-owners Gene Haas and Tony Stewart. “They said, ‘Whatever you think you guys need, you go get.’ We never talked about money or anything financial, it was just ‘Go get what you need to build a team.’ We built brand new race cars, trucks, trailers, [and got] all-new people.

“…All of the character-building moments have led to this moment right here. To close that deal out with the championship there was pretty awesome.”

As for Newman, he said that trying to make the inside lane work against Harvick on the last restart was tough.

“I thought about haulin’ it in wide-open there on Kevin, but that wouldn’t be the right thing – I wouldn’t want him to do that to me,” he said. “They say you gotta lose one before you can win one, and I’m ready to win one now.”

He also believed that to come one spot away from a championship showed the strength of his Richard Childress Racing team, even though they end the year without a single race victory.

“We didn’t win any battles, but we sure came close to winning the war,” he said. “It’s still been a lot of fun and I appreciate all the guys’ hard work.”

Hamlin faded to a seventh-place finish after staying out on track to take the title lead in the aforementioned yellow with 20 to go. He would pinpoint the rash of additional yellows at the very end as a cause for his final outcome.

“With all those cautions, it allowed those guys to close back up and it was kind of all she wrote for us,” he said. “It’s just one of those things. Sometimes, the cautions fall your way and sometimes, they don’t…Things were looking really good, but those cautions just really hurt us.”

The last Championship 4 contender, Joey Logano, was strong for much of the night but under that same 20-to-go caution, his car fell off the jack in the pits. The disaster caused him to fall all the way to 22nd place; he eventually finished 16th.

“It still was a great season for our Shell-Pennzoil Ford,” Logano said. “[The championship] just got taken away by one bad pit stop, unfortunately.”

As expected, the Championship 4 made early charges toward the front of the field. Harvick took the race lead from Gordon at Lap 15, and by Lap 20, three of the title contenders – Harvick, Hamlin, and Logano – were in the Top 5. Newman, who started worst among the quartet in 21st, eventually cracked the Top 5 himself at Lap 75.

All of them avoided major mistakes and stayed toward the front leading up to the 20-to-go caution. During the sequence, Newman took a two-tire stop to rise up to fourth behind then-race leader Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, and Brian Vickers, while Harvick took his four and dropped out of the Top 10.

But in the end, that call was the turning point and allowed Harvick to emerge as the champ.

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.