Kevin Harvick has started to establish himself as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series‘ top driver at the 1.5-mile ovals. A week after winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he backed it up with a victory in the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading 214 of 267 laps.
Harvick started on the front row alongside pole winner Ryan Blaney, the latter’s third career Cup pole. At the back of the field, Jimmie Johnson‘s woeful start to the 2018 season continued when he failed pre-race inspection three times, resulting in his car chief Jesse Saunders being removed from the team for the race. Ross Chastain also suffered a similar fate and, with Johnson, was ordered to the rear of the field. Elsewhere on the grid, Xfinity Series regular Cole Custer started twenty-fifth for his Cup debut with Rick Ware Racing in the #51 Ford.
Blaney led the first lap before Harvick became the leader, forming a solid margin to the other drivers. On lap 21, Martin Truex Jr., who dominated the 1.5 milers in 2017, passed Blaney for second, but was over two seconds behind Harvick. By lap 29, six drivers were already a lap down, and Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports team-mate William Byron fell victim as the race continued.
Green flag pit stops commenced on lap 38 with the leaders hitting pit road, allowing the Front Row Motorsports duo of Michael McDowell and David Ragan, who were staying out, to run 1–2. After completing his stop, Harvick quickly caught up to McDowell, passing him on lap 50 and never looking back as he built a lead of over three seconds to second place. By the end of the stage on lap 80, only 15 cars were on the lead lap. The stage top ten consisted of Harvick, Truex, Kyle Larson, Blaney, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Paul Menard.
A poor stop for Truex dropped him four spots for the start of the second stage on lap 89, while Harvick and Larson led the field to the green. Harvick quickly pulled ahead, leading by over a second within a matter of laps. When the lap count hit triple digits, McDowell retired from the race with an engine failure, ending his day with 11 laps led.
By lap 105, only 16 cars were not a lap down. Harvick ended his reign at the front to pit on lap 121, and Kyle Busch inherited the lead until he pitted four laps later. Once the pit cycle ended, Harvick was back on top, and continued his success as he won the second stage ahead of Blaney, Larson, Logano, Busch, Keselowski, Truex, Kurt Busch, Elliott, and Menard. At this point, Harvick had led a whopping 147 of 160 laps.
Logano won the race off pit road as Harvick fell to fifth for the start of the third stage on lap 167. The Connecticut native led until lap 176 when the first race-related caution came out for Jamie McMurray hitting the wall on the backstretch as he ran eleventh. Truex did not pit and became the new leader for the restart on lap 183, though Logano – on newer tires – quickly passed the defending champion and Harvick caught up to take second. A lap later, Kurt Busch lost control of his car while racing Elliott and slid up into the #9, taking the two out and producing another caution. Truex pitted and dropped to tenth as Logano and Harvick occupied the front row for the restart on lap 194.
At the green, Harvick took off as Blaney passed his Team Penske team-mate for second. With 50 laps remaining, Keselowski pitted along with Harvick and other drivers, placing Kyle Busch and Truex at the front. The Toyota duo stayed out and lapped the entire field before also pitting, surrendering the lead back to Harvick. Despite an attempted charge by Busch, he was unable to catch up to the dominant #4 car as Harvick claimed his thirty-ninth career Cup victory and first at Las Vegas since 2015.
Busch finished second, followed by Larson, Truex, Blaney, Keselowski, Logano, Erik Jones, Menard, and Aric Almirola.
“As you look at the last two weeks and our 1.5-mile program in general, it has been really good since I started here at SHR,” Harvick stated. The victory is Harvick’s 100th in NASCAR’s three national series (39 in Cup, 47 in Xfinity, 14 in Camping World Truck). “They put a lot of effort into everything we do from every standpoint to get these cars going like they are. It’s great to win on the West Coast for me.”
NASCAR’s West Coast Swing continues next week with the TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway. Ryan Newman is the defending race winner, but Harvick enters as the sure favorite to win his third consecutive race; in 30 races at the track, he leads all active drivers with eight wins, nineteen top-ten finishes, and an average finish of 9.7.
2018 Pennzoil 400 results
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