Four things we learned from ISM Raceway

Kevin Harvick won the TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway, his third straight win. Here are four things we learned following the fourth race of the NASCAR season.

Kevin Harvick doesn’t have to dominate to win

Harvick led just 38 laps at ISM Raceway to pick up his third straight win of the season. Compared to his previous two wins, 181 laps led at Atlanta and 214 laps led at Las Vegas, those are far fewer laps led.

Harvick didn’t even lead the second most laps in the race. That shows that Harvick doesn’t need to dominate to win, which should worry everyone else in the field.

“To come here to a race track that is so good for us is a lot of fun, and everyone was just determined this week, and we just wanted to just go stomp them,” said Harvick after the race. “We didn’t stomp them, but we won. That’s all that really matters. Just proud of this team. Put a fire in our belly.”

After a week where Harvick’s team was penalized and social media was abuzz, Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team put those distractions to the side and rallied together as a team to score the win.

The last time a driver won three straight races was in 2015 when Joey Logano won at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega during the playoffs. Harvick will go for his fourth straight win at Auto Club Speedway in California.

What’s up with Kyle Larson?

Larson started the race at ISM strong by leading 54 of the first 57 laps. Larson stayed inside the top-10 through the first stage and halfway through stage 2.

Then on lap 123 Larson brought out the caution after spinning out all by himself.

Larson ended up finishing a lap down in 18th. It was just last week after Las Vegas that Larson thought his team was off to a stronger start than in 2017, when he rattled off second place finishes like nobody’s business.

It’s not time to panic by any means, after all he has two top-10 finishes and sits seventh in the standings. But it is important to note that Larson and his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team haven’t found their stride from 2017 quite yet.

The upcoming race at Auto Club Speedway in California, where he’s the defending race winner, will provide a better indication.

Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch all finished inside the top ten at ISM Raceway. (World Copyright: Russell LaBounty, NKP)

Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing are the two best teams

All four cars from Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing cars finished inside the top ten at ISM Raceway. That’s eight of the ten positions coming from two organizations. If you count Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. as part of JGR, then that would be nine.

The performance of Harvick has been impressive. A close second to Harvick’s impressive start are the strong, consistent finishes from Aric Almirola in the No. 10, who replaced Danica Patrick.

It’s a little bit of a surprise to see the Fords from SHR leading the way early this season when many believed the Fords from Team Penske would be the challengers to JGR.

For JGR, their strong start to the season is no surprise. What is worth noting however is the performances by Daniel Suarez and newcomer to JGR, Erik Jones. Both Suarez and Jones are in their second season racing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Jones picked up his second straight top-10 of the season at ISM Raceway. Suarez picked up his first top-10 after suffering a pit gun malfunction a week ago at Las Vegas that derailed a possible top-10 finish.

There have been fewer cautions than a year ago in the three races at intermediate tracks so far in 2018. (World Copyright: Barry Cantrell, NKP)

Fewer cautions in the first three intermediate races

Comparing the races at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix to a year ago, there have been five fewer cautions. That might not seem like a big difference, but there have been fewer cars on the lead lap in each of those races.

Lead lap cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway in this season were 13 compared to 17 in 2017, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway it was nine this season compared to 22 in 2017 and at ISM Raceway it was 15 this season compared to 27 in 2017.

It’s not just Harvick’s domination causing fewer cars on the lead lap , as evident by the race this past weekend’s race at ISM Raceway. It’s still early in the season to say it’s a trend to stay, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.