In ways both literally and figuratively the NASCAR Cup Series field saw red most of Saturday afternoon – Kevin Harvick’s red-colored No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, which dominated the Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway - resulting in Harvick’s third Michigan win in the last four races and fourth of his career.
Harvick’s red car was out front the majority of the afternoon – leading a race best 92 of the 161 laps - but five restarts in the final 30 laps - including an overtime finish – certainly forced Harvick, 44, "The Closer" to close out the win - his fifth of the year tying him with Denny Hamlin for most in the series in 2020.
“This was just an awesome car to drive today," Harvick said. “I think the confidence is high when we come to Michigan anyway. It’s a race track that’s been really good to us and for whatever reason just fits our style of cars, everything we do with our cars at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“[Crew chief] Rodney [Childers] and those guys have given me great race cars every time we’ve come. Just a really, really fast race car today.
Harvick ultimately edged Michigan native Brad Keselowski by a mere .284-seconds for the victory on a final overtime restart. Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch completed the top 10.
“It was a heck-of-a battle," said Keselowski, who was hoping to become the first Michigan native to win a NASCAR Cup Series race at the state’s famed two-miler. “Just not quite strong enough to keep up with Kevin."
“Kevin [Harvick] is just super-fast on the straightaways and doesn’t give up anything in the corner. We’ve got some work to do."
Keselowski was referring to an immediate opportunity - the second half of this Michigan doubleheader weekend, which features another scheduled 156-lapper Sunday, the Consumers Energy 400 (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The lineup for Sunday’s race will be set in a unique way – inverting the Top-20 finishers on Saturday. That means 20th place Chris Buescher and 19th place Clint Bowyer will start out front.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges on Saturday was a new element introduced by NASCAR and debuting at Michigan – the “Choose Rule” – which allows drivers to pick whether they want to line up in the high or low lane on restarts. The feature got a high-profile, much-tested start with so many restarts in the final laps of the race and was by all accounts post-race, a popular addition.
It created another element of drama on the re-starts and certainly forced Harvick to race back around his chief challengers time and again to earn a shot at hoisting the big trophy.
“Felt like we had a fast car," said Kyle Busch, the reigning series champion who is still looking for his first victory of the season. “But it was the best of the rest. The four-car (Harvick) was lights out. He deserved to win the race. It was a race for second today."
Harvick continues to lead the championship standings with 10 of the 16 Playoff positions already taken by 2020 race winners. Only 16 points separates 16th place William Byron – who finished 14th Saturday – from 17th place Erik Jones, who finished 11th after running top-10 most of the day.
Tyler Reddick is 19 points behind the cutoff line and retiring seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is only 22 points back.