By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
In an action-filled afternoon of NASCAR Cup Series racing in Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records, Kevin Harvick held off the field in an overtime sprint to the finish line to earn his fourth victory of the season, and his second consecutive and third overall win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
To celebrate the big victory, Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team climbed the front grandstand fence – reminiscent of the fence celebration his team owner, Indiana native and NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart did during his wins in the race in 2005 and 2007.
Although Harvick led a race best 68 of the 161 laps, he and Denny Hamlin put on a legitimate high-speed duel to decide this victory. While leading Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suffered a blown tire sending the car hard into the Turn 1 wall with only seven laps remaining – ending Hamlin’s impressive run.
“We knew he [Hamlin] was going to be really close on tires and [crew chief] Rodney [Childers} told me on the radio, he said ‘just make sure you keep the pressure on him,” Harvick said. “That was all the pressure I could give.”
With Hamlin out, Harvick assumed the lead for the fourth time on the day and was next tasked with holding off 48-year old former series champion, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Matt Kenseth on a restart with two laps remaining. A great jump on the ensuing start put Harvick back out front and ultimately to a 0.743-second victory.
Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola finished third followed by Brad Keselowski and Sunoco rookie Cole Custer.
Two-time Indianapolis winner and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch finished sixth followed by Michael McDowell, rookie Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace and Joey Logano. It was an especially impressive outing by the series rookies – with four of the six finishing among the top 15. Christopher Bell and John Hunter Nemechek were 12th and 15th, respectively.
Hamlin, who took the lead on the race’s final round of pit stops, ultimately finished 28th following his incident.
“It’s tough, I hate it for the FedEx team [No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team],” Hamlin said post-race. “We did what we needed to do and it just didn’t work out for us today. Had a fast car obviously. Proud of the whole FedEx Toyota team. We’ve been so good lately. Feel like I’m doing all I can, in these big races. A lot things like this don’t go my way all the time, but we’re still going to go next week and try to win the next one. Do all we can.”
And, he acknowledged of the competition with Harvick, “It’s been a great battle, and those guys are great competitors. Last few weeks have been kind of a head-to-head with me and him. Probably not another guy I’d rather battle with each and every week. Congrats to them and that team. We had two very close and equal cars but they got it today.”
One of the weekend’s biggest stories involved seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, a four-time Brickyard 400 winner, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 virus on Friday and had to sit the race out.
NASCAR Xfinity Series perennial championship contender Justin Allgaier was tabbed to drive Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – the first time in Johnson’s legendary career that someone else drove his car in a NASCAR Cup Series race.
Allgaier had to start from the rear of the Indianapolis grid and was steadily making his way forward when he was collected in the pit road melee on Lap 15 – a chain-reaction accident involving several cars. The No. 48 Chevrolet suffered too much damage to continue and Allgaier was officially scored 37th in the 40-car field.
“Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled up there, one car after another was getting run into,” Allgaier said. “Just a shame. I hate it for these guys on this Ally 48. They’ve done such a good job, they prepared so well for the circumstances. Obviously our hearts and our thoughts are with Jimmie right now and his family. That’s the most important piece of all this, getting him back to the race track soon. I wanted to do well for them today and it’s just disappointing to be standing here talking to you [reporters] unfortunately. But we’ll go on.
“I don’t know what next week looks like yet. But we’ll run the Xfinity Series race and have a good shot at it. Disappointing way to end the Brickyard 400.”
Zach Price, a rear tire changer for Ryan Blaney, was hit by a car on pit road while servicing Blaney’s No. 12 Ford during the multi-car incident. The race was red-flagged for an ambulance to respond on pit road and Price – who smiled and waved to team members as he was loaded into the ambulance – was transported to Indy’s Indiana University Methodist Hospital.