Kevin Harvick Rules Kansas Crashfest
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kevin Harvick was able to translate his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole in more than eight years into a victory Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway.
Harvick dominated the early portion of the Hollywood Casino 400, leading 79 of the first 81 laps, before giving up lead to make a green flag pit stop on lap 84. It was then bad luck bit Harvick as the caution flag waved on lap 87 for debris on the track, trapping Harvick back in the pack.
For most of the middle of the race Harvick struggled mid-pack, unable to make any gains towards the front of the pack. Then during a pit stop with just less than 100 laps left Harvick’s crew chief Gil Martin opted only to put fuel in the No. 29 Chevrolet, getting Harvick back to the front of the pack.
It took him a little longer to get back to the lead, but on lap 224 Harvick was able to overtake Brad Keselowski for the race lead. Four laps later the caution flag waved for debris on the track.
All the lead lap cars came down pit road during the caution period, with Jeff Burton beating Harvick out of the pits to take the lead. During the restart Harvick quickly reasserted himself, blowing by Burton to retake the race lead.
Harvick was pulling away from second-place Jeff Gordon when a hard crash involving Brian Vickers brought out what would be the 15th and final caution flag of the day.
The field returned to racing on lap 249 and Harvick was able to quickly pull away from the battle for second between Gordon and Kurt Busch. Busch was able to take the top spot from Gordon, but he was unable to chase down the faster Chevrolet driven by Harvick.
Harvick beat Busch, who started at the rear of the field in a back-up car, to the checkered flag by 1.140 seconds to earn his third victory of the season.
“For me it was like driving two different cars,” Harvick said. “We got that debris caution right as we pitted there early and we got back in traffic and the car was just really tight. Then we got better as the cloud cover came over and we kind of found that middle line down there in one and two.
“They (Harvick’s crew) kept me calm. I was starting to get a little bit wound up because I knew we had a really fast car out front, but it was just a matter of getting there because track position was so important. It was a good day. Just happy as heck for everybody on this team,” Harvick said.
Gordon ended up third, followed by Joey Logano and Carl Edwards.
While Harvick was celebrating in victory lane, several other drivers were happy to just leave Kansas Speedway in one piece.
Championship contender Jimmie Johnson had an up and down day, which included getting caught coming down pit road just as a caution flag waved on track. Johnson was able to rebound from that and was running fifth at the white flag when something began to go wrong in his Chevrolet. He was able to limp home in sixth place.
“Lots of weird restarts, wacky restarts, a lot of chaos there. Then caution after caution for who knows what. Cautions kept coming out,” said Johnson. “We rebounded from all of that, passed a bunch of race cars, then with two to go coming down the back it started shaking real bad and I thought it was over. I limped it around and got it to the finish line.
“It started running again down the back (stretch) coming to the checkers, so I was at least able to maintain over whoever was in seventh there. We overcame a lot today. Very happy and proud of this Lowe’s team,” Johnson said.
Championship leader Matt Kenseth, who had won the last two Sprint Cup races at Kansas, struggled mightily all day with a loose race car. He was able to salvage an 11th place finish.
“It was a struggle all day,” said Kenseth, who now leads Johnson by three points in the Sprint Cup standings. “I’ve been so incredibly spoiled this year. I haven’t had to drive a car like that in a long time.”
Kyle Busch, who entered the race third in the standings, continued his struggles at Kansas Speedway. He first spun on lap 187 after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya, then on lap 200 he slammed the turn two wall after contact with Carl Edwards. He finished 34th.
Despite Sunday’s setbacks, the Las Vegas native didn’t appear to believe his championship chase was done just yet.
“We’ll just have to work hard. We’ll have to keep doing what we’ve done that got us to this point all year long,” said Kyle Busch, who is now fifth in the championship standings. “Every other track besides Kansas seems to bode well for us. We’ll see what happens. If it doesn’t happen then it doesn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to be.”
The race featured a season-high 15 caution flags, including several hard crashes for drivers like Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers as well as a caution flag for a fire outside of turn one by the grandstands.