BROOKLYN, Mich. — Kevin Harvick won just about everything he could in a stellar weekend at Michigan International Speedway, although fittingly, Denny Hamlin was the last driver to pressure him.
Harvick held off Hamlin on Sunday to complete a sweep of NASCAR Cup Series races held on back-to-back days at the two-mile oval. The weekend wins gave him a series-leading six this season and strengthened his position on top of the points standings.
Hamlin, who has five victories in 2020, nearly chased Harvick down at the very end, and this weekend did nothing to dispel the notion that they are the top contenders for this year's championship.
"I have tremendous respect for everyone on that team and Kevin," Hamlin said of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford crew. "As we've gotten older, we've gotten wiser and learned to really appreciate what each other does on the race track. Obviously, they're having a great season as well."
Hamlin was right behind Harvick for the final few laps and came close to passing him a couple of times, but Harvick stayed in front. Hamlin's final desperate bid came up short at the end when Harvick crossed the finish line 0.093 seconds ahead of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota.
Harvick also won the first two stages Saturday and the second stage Sunday. SHR's Clint Bowyer won Sunday's first stage of the 156-lap, 312-mile race.
With NASCAR running an adjusted schedule because of the coronavirus, both Michigan races were held on the same weekend. That meant Harvick became the first driver since Richard Petty in 1971 to win back-to-back races on NASCAR's top circuit on consecutive days. Petty did it July 14 and 15 at Islip and Saratoga, a pair of New York tracks no longer raced by the national series.
The Cup Series competed on back-to-back days last month at Pocono Raceway, where Harvick won the Saturday race with Hamlin second and Hamlin won the Sunday race with Harvick second.
"It's been a long time since I've raced back-to-back days, let alone in the Cup car," Harvick said. "... but we've done that a couple times this year, so I think for us it's worked out pretty well. We're hoping it goes the same way at Dover when we go there in a couple of weeks."
The two Michigan races were pretty similar, with no major incidents through the first two stages. Saturday's finish was more chaotic with a number of late cautions. On Sunday, there were only three cautions, not including the yellow stretches at the end of the first two stages.
One of those, though came after a wreck that knocked out two of Team Penske's stars.
Brad Keselowski's Ford made contact with Ryan Blaney's No. 12 car shortly after the start of the final stage, sending the teammates slamming into the wall.
"It's my fault. I feel really bad for my teammate, Ryan Blaney," said Keselowski, who finished second in Saturday's race as a Cup Series win at his home track continued to elude the 2012 Cup Series champion. "He didn't deserve that. ... I went to get underneath the 12, and I just slipped. I lost the back a little bit, and when I went to collect it he was there and I wiped him out and myself out, so I feel terrible for everyone at Team Penske and especially Ryan Blaney."
That wasn't enough to ruin the day for Ford, which has now won six straight Cup Series races at Michigan. Harvick has taken four of the past five.
"When you start getting texts from Edsel Ford on how important the weekend is, you answer those," said Harvick, the 2014 Cup Series champ. "I've been around Ford for several years now, and you understand the importance of winning at Michigan. The energy and effort that they not only put into our cars, but that they put into the engines at Roush Yates. This is the place, right behind Daytona, that everybody from Ford wants to win at."
Harvick's 55th career victory moved him into a 10th place tie with Rusty Wallace on the all-time Cup Series list, one behind JGR's Kyle Busch.
The reigning series champion, Busch remained winless this year after a fourth-place finish, but he turned in solid performances both days. Teammate Martin Truex Jr. was one spot ahead of him Sunday.
"Yesterday and today, the car drove great. The best driving car I've had here at Michigan," Busch said. "When you have so much comfort, I guess, built into the car, you just don't quite have enough speed. We weren't going to change that overnight, so we stayed consistent with many of the things that we were doing from yesterday just to have a good, solid effort of it today and not screw anything up."
Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch remain the top drivers without a win in the points standings with four races left in the regular season.
The Cup Series heads south again to Daytona International Speedway for next Sunday and its first race on the iconic superspeedway's lesser known road course.