Kevin Harvick wins NASCAR Cup Series in the final laps
The computer screen showed five laps remaining, and Kevin Harvick’s crew chief started to pack up his computer in frustration. His driver was fading from leader Martin Truex Jr., and he didn’t much care to see the conclusion.
But by the time he looked up — after jamming that computer into his bag — Rodney Childers saw what those in the grandstand at Kansas Speedway had already noticed.
Harvick was closing out another one.
Harvick passed Truex in the final lap on Saturday to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series KC Masterpiece 400 at the Kansas Speedway. Harvick has three career victories at Kansas Speedway, tied for the most all-time with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
“I haven’t been that excited to win a race all year,” Harvick said. “Those are the moments you live for right there — the late-lap winning passes and coming from behind and winning on a day when you don’t feel like you had the fastest car. That makes it a lot of fun.”
A 267-lap race that started with the backdrop of the sunset stayed smooth for the initial 237 laps.
But it grew eventful afterward, a series of cautions and lead changes overriding the conclusion under the stadium lights. After 237 laps included only three planned cautions, the contact cautions played a significant part in the outcome.
A seven-car pileup with 14 laps to go was the final factor, Harvick narrowly escaping the wreck and Truex moving atop the leaderboard for the first time in the race. Harvick was sixth as the restart ignited with nine laps left, but he was the only one in the front pack with fresh tires.
He quickly moved to second within only one lap. He required another several laps to finally chase down Truex, making his move on the outside.
“I tried all I could to hold off Kevin — he got through traffic too quick and was too fast,” said Truex, who won twice at Kansas Speedway in 2017. “I thought with five to go we're going to be in good shape. We were running some really fast lap times and actually pulling away.
“The switch flipped. I got tight. Started shaking my front tire, and I knew I was in trouble. He started coming quick after that.”
The new tires propelled Harvick to the finish line, a late decision that relocated him down the field but eased his mind in the final laps. He had preferred to play offense, not defense, he told his crew.
It’s the strategy that has bolstered the best season of his 18-year career. With the schedule only one-third cleared, Harvick has already matched a career high with his five wins.
“We know that we’re riding a momentum wave that is hard to come by,” Harvick said. “And you need to capitalize on it as many times as you can because it may never come again. I’ve never had it in my career, and I’ve been doing this for 18 years.”
Joey Logano placed third and moved within 12 points of Kyle Busch’s lead in the points standings. Asked how to slow Harvick’s surge, Logano replied, “If we knew, we would do it, wouldn’t we? I wish I knew.”
If anybody was going to halt the run from Harvick’s No. 4 car on Saturday, the responsibility appeared to fall to Kyle Larson. He led for the majority of the final stage after winning the second stage— navigating an improbable path in which he began the race at the back of the field — but a restart in the 243rd lap tightened the field and ultimately doomed his chances.
Harvick, who credited Larson with the fastest car in the race, passed him on that restart. It grew worse for Larson. Ryan Blaney, who started second, loosened Larson in the ensuing lap, the exchange effectively dropping both of them from contention. Blaney, who won the first stage after 80 laps, was unable to continue. Larson moved back up to finish fourth.
“I thought we were going to have a really good shot to win there, and Kevin was able to get to my outside,” Larson said. “... We’ll just keep working hard and try to get as fast as the No. 4.”