Kevin Harvick entered Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway in a hole in the points after experiencing technical issues during last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With next weekend’s knockout event at Talladega Superspeedway looming, Harvick and the other Chase drivers knew they had to perform well on Sunday – and the Bakersfield, CA native did just that.
Matt Kenseth led the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, and kept his No. 20 DeWalt FLEXVOLT Toyota up front for a majority of the first part of Sunday’s event. No one appeared to have anything for Kenseth– until Harvick began to mount his charge. Harvick took the lead away from Kenseth on Lap 126 and set sail out in front of the field. Kenseth began to struggle with handling issues, and for the rest of the race never really became a factor again.
With Kenseth dropping back, it was up to someone else to mount a charge on Harvick, whom many didn’t want to win because of the points deficit he was in heading into the race. That charge came from Chase Elliott, who was also in dire need of a good run in Sunday’s race after being involved in a wreck the week before at Charlotte. Elliott was able to run down Harvick and took the lead away, giving some people hope that the young rookie could potentially capture his first career Sprint Cup victory.
But that hope was quickly diminished after Elliott’s car began smoking shortly after the field came in for green flag pit stops around Lap 170. The No. 24 SunEnergy1 Chevrolet gave up the lead and for the rest of the event continued to experience a snowball of issues.
Elliott wasn’t the only Chase driver who had problems in Sunday’s race. On Lap 191, Brad Keselowski came up in front of Denny Hamlin off Turn 4 and got sent spinning wildly down the front stretch. As Keselowski’s car hit the infield grass, the front nose of the car was ripped apart, sending debris everywhere. The battered No.2 Miller Lite team pushed the car back to the garage area and quickly went to work. As result to a triumphant display of teamwork and determination, the No.2 Ford was able to make it’s way back out on track – but the return was short lived. Keselowski’s car went up in smoke not much later, putting a wrap on his dismal day.
“First of all, my guys busted their butt on this Miller Lite Ford to get it back out,” said Keselowski after the second incident. “There’s parts, there’s pieces, they were working underneath it. There was a fire at one point. They just worked their guts out, and if my team keeps putting up this kind of effort, then I don’t worry about today. We are going to win another race. We are going to win Talladega and we will win others races – we will be fine.”
Meanwhile, the battle for the lead had been heating up. Carl Edwards slowly began to prove that he had a car as strong or possibly stronger than Harvick’s. Throughout the final 100 laps, Edwards and Harvick swapped the lead back and forth multiple times.
On the final restart with 30 laps to go, Harvick was able to jump out to the lead while Edwards was caught up in a battle with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Harvick was able to stretch his lead out while the No.19 and No.18 battled, and by the time Edwards was able to clear to second, it was too late. Harvick had built up a big enough lead and was able to cross the finish line first – capturing his fourth victory of the 2016 season.
“That was pretty awesome,” said Harvick post-race. “I knew I just needed to go for it, and that’s really the mindset that we have coming into every race – and we did.”
Harvick’s win couldn’t have come at a better time for himself and his Stewart-Haas Racing team. The No.4 team is now locked into the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, meaning they can relax next weekend at quite probably the most stressful race of the year at Talladega Superspeedway.
“These races are hard so hard to win, and these guys are so good at the details,” Harvick exclaimed after the race. “You put their backs up against the wall and they get better. I’m really proud of them.”
Second-place finisher, Edwards, was expectedly disappointed with his runner-up finish. Kansas Speedway is the Joplin, MO native’s home-track, and in 19 tries he has yet to drive into Victory Lane.
“It’s tough. There’s so many people that come to this racetrack that support me and have supported me…” said Edwards post-race. “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.”
Edwards heads into next weekend’s knockout race at Talladega with a 24-point cushion over the cutoff position. Harvick and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers locked into the next round of the Chase. For the other ten drivers, next weekend is going to be nerve-wracking. Elliott, Hamlin, Keselowski, and Austin Dillon are currently the four drivers at the bottom of the Chase standings. They are all heading into Talladega focused on one thing – winning.
“It’s a good spot for us going into Talladega,” said Dillon, who is currently tied for 8th (the cutoff position) in the points after Kansas. “We have nothing to lose. Proud of our team giving ourselves this chance. I’m very optimistic, look forward to racing hard at Talladega.”
This year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup continues to deliver excitement and drama for everyone involved in NASCAR, but with Talladega Superspeedway up next as the knockout event, it’s safe to say we haven’t seen anything yet.