FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The only shove by Kevin Harvick in Texas this time came on the track.
With 20 laps left in the Duck Commander 500 won by Jimmie Johnson, Harvick tapped the rear of Joey Logano’s car to push past the defending race winner.
“You knock them out of the way, and that’s the chance you take when you block,” said Harvick, whose runner-up finish late Saturday night marked the ninth time in 10 races he was in the top two.
“It’s the end of the race. I blocked him and he got into me. I get it,” said Logano, who kept his car off the wall but quickly slipped several spots before recovering to finish fourth. “Early in the race that’s not acceptable. End of the race, we’re racing for the win. I’d do the same thing.”
But remember, it’s still early in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season — not the eighth of 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship as Texas is in the fall.
Five months ago, when Johnson also celebrated in Victory Lane, Harvick helped escalate a post-race melee in Texas when he pushed Brad Keselowski toward Jeff Gordon on pit road after those two drivers made contact late while racing for the lead.
Johnson joined season points leader Harvick as the only two-time winners in 2015. He took the lead for good in his 72nd career win on a third-to-first pass with 14 laps remaining on the 1 1/2-mile, high-banked track.
It was Johnson’s fifth Cup victory at Texas, extending his track record with his first in a spring race there. He held off Harvick and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for his fourth win in the last six races at the place where he has led 1,017 laps in his career.
“The end of the race was nutty,” Johnson said. “Just a fun race. … A very good night for our sport, a lot of great racing.”
And the only fireworks afterward were the ones lighting up the Texas sky following the first Cup night race of the season.
Harvick, Logano and Martin Truex Jr., who finished ninth, are the only drivers to finish in the top 10 in all seven races this season, and they remained 1-2-3 in points. Keselowski got his sixth top 10 by finishing fifth behind fellow Team Penske driver Logano.
Jamie McMurray, who had taken only two tires for the final restart on lap 314 of 334, was still leading Harvick when they slid high through Turns 3 and 4. That left the bottom wide open for Johnson, who figured he would at least get past Harvick.
“I thought, ‘Man, we’re going to get them both here,'” said Johnson, who did for the 29th and last lead change of the night.
He led nine times for 128 laps.
Before crossing the line eighth in Martinsville two weeks ago in the previous Cup race, Harvick had finished first or second in eight in a row. That was the longest such stretch since seven-time series champion Richard Petty did it 11 consecutive times in 1975. The streak for Harvick started with a runner-up finish to Johnson at Texas in November.
“Maybe we’ll just save the first-place finish for the Chase race,” Harvick said.
Earnhardt finished third for the third time this season, bouncing back from a 36th-place showing at Martinsville, and is seventh in points.
With a season-opening Daytona 500 win last year, Earnhardt immediately secured a spot for the 16-driver Chase. There is no early victory this time, but 20 races remain before the Chase drivers are locked into place. That is plenty of time to get a win, if that is indeed a necessity.
“It’s not a real serious situation that’s kind of bugging you, but it’s in the back of your mind.” Earnhardt said. “One thing I don’t know about this new system is: Will we have 16 winners this year? I don’t know. It don’t look like it the way Harvick’s running.
“If he wins enough races, the odds are not really good to have 16 winners. And if we don’t win a race, I think we’re a good enough team to put enough points together to get one of them spots in the back. So I’m probably worrying for nothing.”
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