Kevin Harvick cashes in, wins Pennzoil 400

by Justin Nguyen
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

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 LoganoBrad KeselowskiKurt BuschChase ElliottKyle 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 RacewayRyan 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

FinishStartNumberDriverTeamManufacturerLaps (Led)Status
124Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord267 (214)Running
21318Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota267 (10)Running
3542Kyle LarsonChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet267Running
4478Martin Truex Jr.Furniture Row RacingToyota267 (6)Running
5112Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord267 (1)Running
682Brad KeselowskiTeam PenskeFord267Running
71022Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord267 (25)Running
8920Erik JonesJoe Gibbs RacingToyota267Running
91221Paul MenardWood Brothers RacingFord267Running
102910Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord266Running
112531Ryan NewmanRichard Childress RacingChevrolet266Running
121448Jimmie JohnsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet266Running
13163Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet266Running
14717Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Roush Fenway RacingFord265Running
152837Chris BuescherJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet265Running
162088Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet265Running
171911Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota265Running
181114Clint BowyerStewart-Haas RacingFord265Running
192195Kasey KahneLeavine Family RacingChevrolet264Running
20246Trevor BayneRoush Fenway RacingFord264Running
212643Darrell Wallace Jr.Richard Petty MotorsportsChevrolet264Running
223232Matt DiBenedettoGo Fas RacingFord264Running
232338David RaganFront Row MotorsportsFord264Running
243113Ty DillonGermain RacingChevrolet264Running
253051Cole CusterRick Ware RacingFord264Running
261819Daniel SuárezJoe Gibbs RacingToyota263Running
271724William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet263Running
283472Cole WhittTriStar MotorsportsChevrolet262Running
293315Ross ChastainPremium MotorsportsChevrolet262Running
302747A.J. AllmendingerJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet262Running
31360Jeffrey EarnhardtStarCom RacingChevrolet255Running
323755Joey GasePremium MotorsportsChevrolet253Running
333523Gray GauldingBK RacingToyota195Engine
3469Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet183Crash
35341Kurt BuschStewart-Haas RacingFord183Crash
36221Jamie McMurrayChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet176Crash
371534Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord100 (11)Engine

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