It’s Kevin Harvick’s world, and the rest of NASCAR is just living in it.
Harvick blew by leader Martin Truex Jr. on the high side with a little more than a lap to go, winning the KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night, Harvick’s second win in a row and his fifth in 12 races this season.
Harvick has never won more than five races in a season, and now he has 24 left to get to six or more.
Harvick had run near the front all night, but needed a little magic after a restart with nine laps to go saw him in sixth, with Truex, who had won the last two races at Kansas, doing everything he could to hold Harvick off as the laps wound down.
“Man, that was really wild at the finish there,” Harvick said after the race on FS1. “... It came down to restarts there at the end.”
Only a few laps earlier, with Harvick leading and leaving frustrated drivers in his wake, contenders Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney crashed into each other with 19 laps to go, setting up a restart where some drivers pitted, and others, including Harvick, stayed on the track to keep their positions.
It was the decision to stay out on that caution that brought Harvick in for four fresh tires after the final caution, with Truex and others opting to stay out.
Harvick started on the pole to open the race and set sail when the green flag dropped, dominating the first 30 laps before NASCAR threw a yellow flag for a competition caution because morning rains had made the track green, meaning the built-up rubber from previous racing activities on Friday had been washed away.
When the green flag flew again on Lap 35, Harvick was second behind fellow Ford Fusion driver Blaney after pit stops, and Blaney didn’t have much trouble keeping the lead as clean air out front proved to be king, as it often has in recent seasons on 1.5-mile tracks such as Kansas.
But on Lap 79 of 80 in Stage 1, Harvick had caught back up and challenged Blaney for the Stage 1 win. But Blaney held on to claim it.
Harvick finished second, with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Larson rounding out the top five, respectively. Larson was the only Chevy driver in the top 10, as seven Ford drivers filled the spots and two drivers, Denny Hamlin in seventh and Kyle Busch in eighth — in Toyotas.
As Stage 2 began, twilight set in over the speedway, and soon darkness, and then teams and crew chiefs did their best to chase the handling on the cars as the track cooled.
In the race off pit lane after the cars stopped to gear up for Stage 2, Harvick was back in the lead, with Blaney second, Keselowski third, Hamlin fourth and Logano fifth.
As pit stops started and then cycled through with about 30 laps left in Stage 2, Harvick was back up front but quickly gave the lead up to Larson, with Blaney third, Kyle Busch fourth and brother Kurt Busch fifth.
Larson had no trouble staying out front to the end of Stage 2, his first stage win since last season’s finale at Homestead, with Harvick second, Blaney third and Kyle Busch and Logano rounding out the top five.
The cars came back to pit to set up for the final 107 laps to the finish, and they would all need to pit again for fuel and tires as laps wound down. After the round of pit stops following the end of Stage 2, Larson was still out front when the green flag flew with 99 laps to go, followed by the rest of the top five in the order they finished the stage.
Larson immediately broke out front and held on to the lead to start the race to the finish. And after the next round of pit stops had cycled through, Larson was still up front, with Blaney second and Harvick third with 41 laps to go.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads home to Charlotte next week, with the All-Star Race slated for next Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, with the Open to precede it at 6 p.m. ET as drivers not already qualified for the All-Star Race vie to finish in the top two to transfer into the big race.
—Field Level Media