NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick finished what he started on Sunday.
Harvick, who started from the pole in a Sprint Cup race for the first time since 2006, won the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway for his first victory at the track and his third of the season.
Harvick won on a cool, cloudy afternoon by mastering the new multi-zone tread tires Goodyear designed for Kansas Speedway’s repaved and re-banked track, and by overcoming a track-record 15 cautions that were a result of everything from duct tape on the track to smoke from a fire on the grass outside the fence at turn one. The race also featured six accidents.
“Everybody was battling the tires and the track, and I think it was like driving on a razor blade,” said Harvick, who beat Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag in a 1-2-3 finish by Chevrolets.
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“It was like driving two different cars. Out front it was not even close, and in traffic you were just another one of the cars and had a lot of trouble, so that made the restarts really important. Everybody would get really aggressive on the restarts and try to make up spots because that was the place that you had to do it.”
With the victory, Harvick, in his final season driving for Richard Childress Racing before he moves to Stewart-Haas next season, moved from fourth to third place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, 25 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, who finished 11th. Jimmie Johnson, who finished sixth, closed to within three points of Kenseth.
Harvick led eight times for 138 of the 267 laps, but every time he felt in control of the race, a caution would come out. And not the garden-variety yellow flag, but cautions for bizarre reasons.
At one point, an exasperated Harvick told crew chief Gil Martin he was being “(messed up) by smoke and duct tape.”
“I knew Gil was in full meltdown mode on the smoke because the first caution was for a piece of tape,” Harvick said, “and we just started the green flag pit cycles, and … then they throw the caution to pick up the debris ….
“And then there was smoke … The first thing you think of is ‘Man, I got (messed) up there or somebody is messing with us. You always think everybody is out to get you. But luckily, it all worked out.”
Many of the drivers were bedeviled by the new tires, especially Kenseth, the winner of the first two races on the repaved track.
“That’s the worst conditions I’ve raced in .. I don’t know how long, probably since they paved Charlotte (in 2006) and had that hard tire,” Kenseth said. “The right side tire was obviously not the answer. I’m sure Kevin’s happy, but other than that, I think everybody kind of struggled with it.”
Clearly, Harvick was one of the few who found no issues with the new tire.
“I think the issue is the pavement and the things they keep repaving these racetracks with that puts Goodyear in a box,” Harvick said. “It's not Goodyear's fault; they have to make a tire that's not going to blow out. So when you're running an average of 187 or 185 mph, whatever the average speed is, they have to make the tire durable.
“For me, this is more positive for us than any other race we've been to all year, just for the fact that we were at a mile-and-a-half racetrack that had a lot of circumstances, and being comfortable -- more comfortable than everybody else I guess you could say -- driving the car and having the speed that it had I think shows the gains that we've been able to make since that race.”
That should bode well for the rest of the Chase for Harvick, because three of the last six races are 1.5-mile tracks, including next week at Charlotte, where he won the Coca-Cola 600 last spring. Harvick is the only driver besides Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kenseth and Kyle Busch to win on 1.5 mile tracks this season.
“There is no way you can ever consider yourself out of it,” said Martin. “The first race of the year at Daytona we came out of there 43rd, and in 10 weeks we were back up to around 10th or 11th, so we made up a lot of ground, not only just by running well. Other guys had problems, too, and with six races to go, I mean, there's so many things that can happen.
“You've still got Talladega and Martinsville that everybody considers to be tracks that shake everything up, but (Sunday) we were at what everybody considers to be a noneventful mile and a half, and you saw what happened. But by no means do I think we're out of it.”