LAS VEGAS, Nev.— Kevin Harvick must have been tired of finishing second, because on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion did something about it.
Once Harvick got to the front of the field from his 18th-place starting spot in the Kobalt 400, he was untouchable.
Even with a disquieting vibration on the final green-flag run—and a left-rear tire that shredded during his celebratory burnout—Harvick had enough of a working margin to hold off runner-up Martin Truex Jr. by 1.640 seconds.
Harvick, who ran second in the season-opening Daytona 500 and in last week’s 500-miler at Atlanta, led a race-high 142 laps in winning for the first time in Las Vegas and for the 29th time in his career. In his last six races, dating to last year’s championship season, Harvick has three victories and three second-place finishes.
Ryan Newman came home third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and AJ Allmendinger. Brad Keselowski, last year’s Las Vegas race winner, rallied from a pass-through penalty for a runaway tire on pit road to finish seventh. Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
Harvick will try to extend his string of top-two finishes next weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, where the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet has won four of the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
“It’s so cool to win here in Las Vegas, and to start this West Coast swing off this way is pretty awesome,” Harvick said in Victory Lane. “Just to be in front of all these fans I’ve raced in front of since about the mid-‘90s… it’s pretty special to win here.”
The only issue in doubt for the last half of the race was whether Harvick’s car would hold together in the closing laps.
“That wasn’t a comfortable last run there,” Harvick radioed to his crew after he crossed the finish line.
A few minutes later, after climbing from his car, he elaborated.
“It wasn’t right,’” Harvick said. “Luckily we were able to hang-on to it and had a good enough lead to where we could pace ourselves and be able to keep the lead, I guess.
“It got to be a handful there at the end. For whatever reason we got really, really loose the last run. Tires started vibrating and we were just kind of hanging on. Glad the race is over at that particular point for our own good.”
The victory vaulted Harvick into the lead in the series standings by nine points over Earnhardt, who has finished third, third and fourth in the first three races of the season.
Fourth in the standings after three straight top 10s to open the year, Truex was gaining on Harvick at the finish but never got close enough to make a move. Nor was Truex aware that Harvick had a potential problem.
“I noticed he was getting a lot bigger, and I asked ‘Why in the world is Harvick so slow right now?’” Truex said. “They gave me my lap times and his and I’m like, “What’s going on?’”
“I really thought he was just playing with us, taking it easy because he knew he had a big gap. They never said anything to me about him thinking he had any issues or anything else.”
Note: Pole winner Jeff Gordon started from the rear in a backup car because of an accident in the last minute of Saturday’s final practice. The four-time champion’s luck didn’t improve on Sunday. He ran into the back of Jeb Burton’s Toyota as both drivers were trying to avoid the Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson, who had blown a tire and hit the wall ahead of them. Gordon finished 18th, one lap down… Gordon was the last driver before Harvick to post six straight top-two finishes, a feat he accomplished in 1996.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Kobalt 400
- (18) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267, $431815.
- (8) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $268950.
- (7) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, $236980.
- (4) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 267, $184455.
- (19) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, $162380.
- (22) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 267, $162703.
- (11) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267, $170461.
- (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267, $156078.
- (6) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267, $157206.
- (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 267, $165853.
- (10) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267, $144426.
- (24) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 267, $121010.
- (23) Brian Scott(i), Chevrolet, 267, $128068.
- (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 267, $141793.
- (28) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 266, $137274.
- (34) Regan Smith(i), Chevrolet, 266, $123160.
- (3) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 266, $121660.
- (1) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 266, $157196.
- (30) Ryan Blaney(i), Ford, 266, $101660.
- (25) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 265, $146796.
- (20) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 265, $137418.
- (13) David Ragan, Toyota, 265, $143651.
- (37) David Gilliland, Ford, 265, $123318.
- (29) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 265, $126380.
- (17) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 264, $118593.
- (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 264, $134771.
- (21) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 264, $104710.
- (35) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 264, $137185.
- (31) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 264, $103385.
- (32) Michael McDowell, Ford, 264, $93610.
- (26) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 263, $112457.
- (38) Cole Whitt, Ford, 262, $94210.
- (12) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 262, $118724.
- (39) Josh Wise, Ford, 261, $91310.
- (42) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 261, $91085.
- (40) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 260, $90845.
- (36) Brett Moffitt, Ford, 260, $90614.
- (43) Brendan Gaughan(i), Chevrolet, 258, $85290.
- (33) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 257, $81290.
- (41) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 254, $78790.
- (9) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 236, $121226.
- (14) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 227, $69290.
- (27) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Engine, 28, $65790.
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR