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Kevin Harvick makes a last run at Michigan, aiming to secure spot in NASCAR playoffs

By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Kevin Harvick has fond memories of Michigan International Speedway, where he won for the sixth time last summer.

Harvick is just not real interested in waxing poetically about the track before making one last run on it Sunday in the FireKeepers Casino 400.

“Michigan has been a great place for us, but when we leave it’s over,” he said. “I’m not coming back.”

It’s not personal. It’s business.

While the 47-year-old Harvick may return to the Irish Hills region of southern Michigan as a TV analyst and potentially for his managing and marketing company, he has no plans to race on the two-mile oval again in the future.

The 2014 Cup champion announced in January he’s retiring after this year.

“If I would’ve had it my way, I would’ve just been done last year,” he said.

Harvick came back because he knows it’s not just about him, considering the people on his team that count on him for their careers and the many fans who have helped him become rich and famous.

On Friday night, Harvick signed autographs for several hundred people who lined up to meet and greet him at FireKeepers Casino about 50 miles west of MIS.

“That’s what this year is for,” he said. “Obviously, you want to end it well and win and be competitive.”

Harvick is No. 6 in the Cup standings, but he hasn’t finished first in a race since his 60th and last Cup victory at Michigan last year ended a 65-race winless drought.

He may need to win once more — with four races remaining in the regular season — in the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing to end his career in the playoffs for the 14th straight year.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” said Harvick, who was 22nd in qualifying.

At the start of his career, he had plenty of pressure at the start of his career as Dale Earnhardt’s replacement just days after his fatal crash in 2001.

Harvick, who is from Bakersfield, California, made the most of his opportunity two-plus decades ago when he won his third start. He had much more success over the years with signature wins at the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500.

“He’s left a great legacy in our sport,” driver and team owner Brad Keselowski said. “He’s won a lot of races, a Cup championship, Xfinity titles, truck titles as an driver and owner. That’s a pretty good mark that I don’t know anyone else can lay claim to, let alone taking over an iconic ride with Earnhardt’s car and all the pressures that came with that.

“With time, we’ll recognize him for the icon he is and was in our sport.”

THE GRID

Christopher Bell won his second pole of the season, and the sixth of his career. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, in the No. 20 Toyota, turned a lap at 193.382 mph for the fastest qualifying performance since the Daytona 500 in 2020.

Bell is hoping his fast car can help him finish well after placing 18th or lower in four of his last five races.

Ross Chastain of Trackhouse Racing will start second followed by rookie Ty Gibbs, who drives for his grandfather’s team, Joe Gibbs racing.

Chris Buescher of RFK Racing qualified fourth, coming off a win at Richmond that gave him the 12th of 16 spots in the postseason. Points leader Martin Truex Jr. will start the 200-lap race fifth in the 37-car field.

SUSPENDED

Legacy Motor Club driver Noah Gragson was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and his team for liking an insensitive meme with a photo of George Floyd’s face on social media. Josh Berry will be in the No. 42 Chevrolet in Gragson’s place.

COMING BACK

Truex is returning for another run, signing a deal to continue competing for Joe Gibbs Racing next year.

The 43-year-old Truex has not shown signs of slowing down, winning three times. Like Truex did last year, though, he took his time making a decision about his future after publicly pondered retirement.

FORD TOUGH

Ford Motor Co. has won eight straight races at Michigan since Kyle Larson won a third straight race in a Chevrolet at the tack in 2017.

ODDS AND ENDS

Truex is the betting favorite Sunday, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

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