Kevin Harvick overcame several issues including losing a lap to charge to his third victory of the season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway Sunday. Harvick led from his first pole since2006 and would go on to lead the most laps, 138, but it was far from an easy day.
A record 15 cautions slowed the race but in the end also helped Harvick whose Richard Childress Racing Chevy was the class of the field, as long as he was out front.
Harvick led the field to the green but the first caution came out just as the field exited turn 1. Danica Patrick running three wide, got loose entering the turn. Her Chevy careened into the wall sweeping up David Reutimann and Cole Whitt. Patrick was done for the day while Reutimann and Whitt continued. Kyle Busch, who came into the day third in points, and started at the back of the field spun but didn’t hit anything.
Busch pitted several times as the crew checked the damage on his splitter and change his in-car radio. The restart came on lap 10 with Harvick jumping to the lead over Brad Keselowski. By lap 21 Kurt Busch, who also had to start in the back had made his way to 21st.
Jimmie Johnson was slowly making up ground and catching Harvick when the caution came out for Michael McDowell losing a tire on lap 43. The leaders came in for the first round of stops. The top seven led by Harvick, Earnhardt and Johnson took only two tires. Jeff Gordon and Aric Almirola rounded out the top five. Harvick easily retook the lead on the restart on lap 48. It didn’t take long for him to stretch out his led to a second and a half over Earnhardt in second place. By lap 64 however Earnhardt had closed the gap. After dropping back on the restart, Johnson also began to regain spots and came back to third. Up front Earnhardt caught Harvick on lap 70 and was challenging for the lead. Johnson soon caught Earnhardt and the battle shifted to second. On lap 73 Johnson took over second and headed to the front.
By lap 80 Johnson had caught Harvick and was contesting for the lead. On lap 82, Johnson was able to pass Harvick and began to pull away. Harvick came in on the next lap to start a round of green flag stops. Johnson soon followed and entered pit road just as caution came out for debris; he wisely kept rolling through the pits. The move cost him several spots though. The leaders came in for stops. Earnhardt led off pit road with Kenseth second. Thanks to his timing Johnson restarted in 17th. Harvick was among those who had just pitted, he restarted 25th a lap down.
“For me it was like driving two different cars,” Harvick said. “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 (turns) one and two and they kept me calm. I was starting to get a little bit wound up because I knew we had a really fast car out front. It was just a matter of getting there because track position was so important.”
Kenseth was able to shoot to the lead past Earnhardt on the restart on lap 92. By lap 100 Johnson was back inside the top 10. The fourth caution came out on lap 111 as Landon Cassill and Joe Nemeheck both suffered mechanical issues. The leaders all came in. The top 10 took only two tires with Earnhardt winning the race off pit road over Kenseth. Harvick would get his lap back but was at the tail end of the field.
Earnhardt led the field to the green but the field didn’t even complete half a lap before Dave Blaney spun exiting turn 2 bringing out the fifth caution. The green was out just long enough for Joey Logano to move to second and Kenseth to drop back to fourth. Logano was able to slip by Earnhardt on the inside to take the lead on the restart.
The sixth caution came out on lap 136 when both Ryan Newman and Justin Allgaier in just his second Sprint Cup start crashed. Allgaier got loose exiting turn 2 and hit the wall, he then came down and hit Newman. Allgaier was done while Newman was forced to the garage.
“We were minding our own there just trying to ride,” Allgaier said. “The car was actually pretty strong and we were running up inside the top 15 at some points and it just turned right. I got a little bit loose over the seam and everything seemed to be okay. It turned right and hit the fence really hard. I hate it for Ryan Newman. I didn’t mean to ruin their day.”
The leaders all came in for stops, with the top 10 again taking only two tires. Logano led Earnhardt off pit road while points leader Kenseth was hit with a speeding penalty. After completing his stop and go penalty, Kenseth came back in for two more tires and some adjustments. He restarted 30th. Being back in traffic held Kenseth up and told his crew that his car was the “evil-est” he ever drove.
“Is that a new word? I made that up ,” Kenseth said. “It was a struggle all day -- even when we were in front, it was a struggle. I've been so incredibly spoiled this year -- I haven't had to drive a car like that in a long time. Everybody was on the same tires -- you can't really blame that -- but it was just incredibly treacherous and I was just so loose I was ready to crash pretty much at all times of the race.”
Harvick and Kyle Busch stayed out and took over the top two spots. For Harvick the move proved to be the winning one. It was a three wide battle heading to turn 1 with Harvick passing Logano for the lead as Kyle Busch slipped back. Once again the caution came out before the leaders made it back around as Travis Kvapil spun exiting turn 2. Harvick once again led to the green but this time he was able to pass Logano and stretch out his lead.
A caution for a bizarre incident came out on lap 155 when a fire ignited outside the track along the entrance to turn 1 sent smoke across the track. Harvick was one of the few cars to pit. The move handed the lead to Logano. Logano held off Juan Pablo Montoya to take over the lead on the restart. Caution came out on lap 170 when David Ragan hit the wall.
The leaders all came in for pit stops. Four lead lap cars stayed out led by Keselowski. Denny Hamlin was second followed by Kasey Kahne and Kenseth. Behind them those who had taken two and four tires tried to work forward.
The 10th caution came out for debris from the car of Casey Mears on lap 180. Keselowski led the field to the green. But only two laps later the 11th caution flew as Kyle Busch and Montoya got together with Busch spinning down into the infield and shooting back across the track. He was able to avoid contact with only Mark Martin sustaining damage when he scraped the wall as he moved to avoid Busch.
Keselowski retook the lead with Harvick falling into second on the restart. It was only for a few laps however as Marcos Ambrose spun exiting turn 2 bringing out caution number 12 on lap 196. On the restart trouble for Kyle Busch continued as Busch’s Toyota slid down the track and was sent nose first into the outside wall ending his day.
"I have no idea what happened on the last one,” said Busch who has now failed to finish the last three races at Kansas. “All I know is we're in Kansas -- right?"
Keselowski was back in the lead being chased by Harvick on the restart. Harvick tried to make up ground but kept getting loose. Meanwhile Menard hung on for third. Kenseth came in for his last stop under green with 47 laps to go.
On lap 225 Keselowski slowed as his Ford ran out of gas and Harvick shot by for the lead. A lap later caution number 14 flew for debris. The leaders came in for what many felt could be the last stop of the race. Jeff Burton who had taken fuel only led the race off pit road. Harvick was second with fuel and two tires; Ambrose was third with fuel only while Gordon and Carl Edwards both of whom had taken two tires were fourth and fifth. Kenseth restarted in 30th. Harvick made easy work of Burton to retake the lead. After restarting 14th Johnson who was quickest after a few green flag laps was slowly working his way to the front.
Brain Vickers suffered a hard crash with 24 laps to go bringing out the 15th caution and bunching the field back up for a last dash to the finish. Johnson was fifth when the caution came out. The only concern for Harvick was for fuel.
Harvick and Gordon we side by side for the restart with 19 to go. As Gordon battled with Kurt Busch for second, Harvick began to pull away up front. Busch cleared Gordon a lap later and after falling two laps down at one point and having to start the day in the back of the field in a back-up car found himself in second.
With 10 to go Harvick had a two second lead over Busch. The only drama in the final laps came from Johnson whose Chevy began to slow as it began to suffer a mechanical issue with three laps to go. He was able to hold on for 6th.
“What a day!” Johnson said. “We had so many things happen to us and still salvaged a very strong sixth place finish. I really feel like we had the fastest car today, but just couldn’t get there with issues and track position and cautions at weird times and restarts were kind of an issue and there was a lot of craziness there. And then coming with two (laps) to go, we had something go wrong with either the ignition or the engine there and I had to give up a spot and limped it home. I feel kind of bummed out that we left some points on the table, but at the same time I’m happy I made it to the finish line under power and I got a nice finish.”
Meanwhile Harvick scored his 31st career win and his third of the season.
“It was just a tough day with track position,” Harvick said. “I knew if we could ever get back out front after we got caught in the pits there with that debris caution. It kind of worked out for us there at the end and caught a couple of those guys so it all came full circle and we were able to put our Budweiser Chevy up front and once we got out front the thing was just really fast.”
Busch was second, Gordon third; Logano was fourth, Edwards fifth and Johnson held on for sixth. Paul Menard was seventh, Earnhardt eight, Ambrose rallied from his spin for ninth and Aric Almirola was 10th.
Points leader Kenseth recovered to finish 11th. Other Chase contenders: Greg Biffle was 13th, Kasey Kahne 15th, Kyle Busch finished in the garage I 34th with Newman on the track but just behind him in 35th. Kenseth holds a slim three point lead over Johnson, while Harvick moved up to third in the Chase, 25 points back from the lead. Gordon moved up to fourth while Kyle Busch fell two spots to fifth. Biffle, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Logano round out the top 10; Edwards, Newman and Kahne occupy the bottom three spots.
“I feel really fortunate to still be leading the points,” Kenseth said. “It was not the day we wanted -- both the last two weeks. We struggled a little bit and still salvaged -- it could have been worse -- we could have been backed into the fence. Proud of this team -- they didn't give up on me today. They worked really hard on it. We'll go racing next week."
The series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s Bank of America 400. Harvick won the race there in May.