Kevin Harvick seems to perform best when his back is against the wall. Sunday he proved that again. Harvick took the lead from hometown favorite Carl Edwards on the final restart and never looked back, leading the last 29 laps in route to victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
The win came a week after Harvick was forced to drop out of the race at Charlotte and fell to the bottom of the Chase standings. Facing possible elimination from the Chase, Harvick started 11th and was working his way through the field but a pit stop during the first of the races eight cautions saw Harvick lose five spots due to a bad air gun. Harvick never gave up, methodically worked his way forward and the second half of the race was swapping the lead with Edwards.
“Well the first thing I want to do is thank everybody on the No. 4 team,” Harvick said. “These races are so hard to win, and these guys are so good at the details. You put their backs against the wall and they get better. Really proud of them.”
Edwards would lead 31 laps, Harvick 74.
The winning move for Harvick came on the final restart when he was able to take the lead from Edwards. Edwards spent much of the final laps battling with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for second. Once he was able to clear Busch, there wasn’t enough time however and Harvick won by 1.1 seconds.
“I felt like we had the race under control if it would’ve kept going green,” Edwards said. “We really had something fast there and then that restart Jimmie (Johnson) got behind Kevin (Harvick) and pushed him just far enough out there that we got into turn 1 and I just couldn’t hang and slow Kevin down and he just broke the draft there. And after that I ended up racing Kyle (Busch). I mean, that was a real battle and that let Kevin get out ahead. That was a pretty hard battle, but at the end of the day you’re racing for every position here. I thought we raced as hard as – it was reasonable but it was pretty hard. The hard part for me is just we didn’t win this race.”
For Edwards, who hails from nearby Columbia Missouri, it was another disappointing finish at the track he considers his home track, and a place he had never won at.
“It’s tough,” Edwards said. “There’s so many people that come to this racetrack that support me and have supported me. Not just when I’m racing here, but Capitol Speedway, Old Summit, Callaway Raceway, Godfrey, all these places I raced growing up. It’s a really special place for me. As much fun as I had racing up front, yeah, it stings. There are negative emotions tied to not winning here with that fast of a car. But that’s the way it goes.”
Joey Logano was third, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Kyle Busch, who was among several drivers outside the top six that pitted during that final caution came home fifth.
“We just completely missed it there for our race setup today for the heat of the day,” Busch said. “The way that the temperatures and everything were the track conditions just weren’t anything close to what we expected I guess. We missed it pretty bad. We were horrible there for about 200 laps and then the last 67 we got better. We were better on the short run at least where we could fire off and get going but we weren’t very good on the long runs. We just missed it a little bit.”
As was the story at Charlotte, several drivers in the Chase had disastrous days. Those included Brad Keselowski who crashed on lap 190 after contact with Chase contender Denny Hamlin. Keselowski finished with a DNF, the first for Penske Racing in 2016, in 38th. The team tried to repair the damage, but Keselowski could only make one lap before he was forced to retire.
“The guys busted their butt to get me back out,” Keselowski said. “They put a whole new front end. There must have been some kind of damage to the engine from the spin. It was running fine before that. I think it is just unfortunate. I am not going to say for sure what happened to cause the spin. We will move forward. If we keep getting the effort like they did to fix this thing we will be fine.”
Chase Elliott too had another disappointing race. A week after a crash took him out at Charlotte; Elliott led 4 laps and was in contention for the win late in the going. He was leading during a round of green flag stops on lap 175, but a lap after he pitted his right rear tire went down and he was forced to pit again. He spent the rest of the day struggling, hitting the wall on several occasions and finishing 31st, three laps down.
“I don’t know if we got the left rear getting up on the race track, or something and it got into the fender and cut it down,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what to do man, we were trying as hard as we can. We had such a good car today again, and….I don’t know what to do. Just keep after it and try to move on.”
Denny Hamlin was inside the top 10 and top five much of the early going, but he slowed on lap 35 reporting an issue with his Toyota. He pitted just as Aric Almirola spun exiting turn 4 after contact with Brian Scott and the second caution waved. Hamlin pitted three times under the caution as the crew worked on the car’s front splitter. He fell as low as 35th at one point, but rebounded to get back inside the top 10. On lap 190 however the contact with Keselowski damaged the nose of his car and he was again forced in for repairs. Two pit road penalties, for an uncontrolled tire and too many crewmen over the wall, didn’t help his cause. Hamlin finished on the lead lap in 15th.
“Everything went wrong,” Hamlin said. “Just stupid stuff and then penalties when we shouldn’t have them and just another year of the same stuff. So, thanks to FedEx and thanks to Toyota for getting on the car and getting us on the race track, but just wish we could make things happen a little bit better. I mean, there’s not much else I can do.”
Kurt Busch who was forced to start from the rear of the field in a backup car after a practice crash Saturday, struggled much of the day but made a late race charge to finish 13th.
“We got up as high as seventh and I could see the front” Busch said. “I could smell the front, I could taste it, we just couldn’t hang. The last adjustment we made sure to free the car up and the car was tight on the last run. I don’t know what we have to do with these tires.”
Martin Truex Jr. ran strong early but an issue with his cars fueling forced him to pit under green. He finished 11th.
“It was definitely tough,” Truex said. “We fought hard and we just ultimately had to pit when we were about to run out of gas and hope for the best. The first caution got us and then from there on out we did okay with catching them at a decent time. We just battled. We had decent track position there with about 50 to go or so and we pitted and gave up some and could just never get it back. I felt like we were a little better than 11th but definitely not as good as we hoped to be today.”
Polesitter Matt Kenseth led a race high 116 of the 267 laps, but struggled in the second part of the race. Contact with another car didn’t help and Kenseth could only hold on for a ninth place.
“It was really bad,” Kenseth said. “We were backing up there, we lost the handle and the track got hotter and we started getting loose and started losing a few spots. We hit the wall getting into one, I’m not sure how I did it and got us behind and got us tight. We made our way back up there at the end, I thought we were going to be okay on that last restart, then whatever that little kid’s name is who’s driving the 88 (Alex Bowman), hung a left and knocked my whole right front fender off and we were just lucky to finish were we did.”
Ahead of Kenseth, Chase contender Austin Dillon rallied late for a sixth place finish, Alex Bowman substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished a career best seventh. AJ Allmendinger was eighth, with Kasey Kahne rounding out the top 10 behind Kenseth. The full results can be found here, the update point standings here.
Harvick was the hero of the day scoring the 35th win of his career, his fourth of the season and his second at Kansas. Harvick is now the only driver to have avoided elimination in the Chase since the new format debuted in 2014.
“I think the best thing is that we prepare this thing for every race,” Harvick said. “I try every week to find something to motivate myself and I know these guys do the same thing. It’s hard to keep yourself motivated and continue to perform at a high level. Being able to do it for three years now says a lot about the character of this team and the things that they do. It is like they say, anything that is really, really hard to get and come by, there are going to be some obstacles and some bumps in the road. I am just really proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Next up is the race most feared by the Chase field, the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network with the green flag coming just after 2:00 p.m. ET.
“I just will go there, and race our hearts out and try to win,” said Elliott who heads to Talladega at the bottom of the Chase grid facing elimination. “That’s about all we can do I guess. We have something to be proud of in the way we have been running. There are just some things we can’t control. “