Kevin Harvick‘s juggernaut status in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cannot be contained.
The 2014 champion tied his 2006 season with his fifth win of the season in Kansas Speedway‘s KC Masterpiece 400. Unlike 2006, he reached the milestone in just twelve races in 2018, scoring win number five after making a pass on Martin Truex Jr. with just two laps remaining.
Harvick scored his second pole of the season and second in the last three races ahead of Ryan Blaney. Six drivers — Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth (in his first Cup race since the 2017 Ford EcoBoost 400), Michael McDowell, Matt DiBenedetto, and Timmy Hill — did not set qualifying times as they were unable to pass inspection, forcing them to start at the rear of the field.
Harvick led the race early as Fords dominated the top running; by lap 20, Kyle Busch‘s Toyota was the lone non-Ford in the top seven. Kenseth fell a lap down to Harvick on lap 28, though regained it when the competition caution came out two laps later. William Byron took two tires and led the field off pit road, but was penalized for an outside tire violation, relegating him to the tail end of the grid. Ass a result, Blaney was the leader for the restart on lap 35.
Kyle Larson, who started twenty-second, continued to move up the field; by lap 52, he was in the top six. As Blaney led Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Darrell Wallace Jr. suffered from various problems: as the race passed the 60-lap mark, the former pitted for a loose wheel and fell to twenty-ninth and a lap down, while the latter cut a right-rear tire. Harvick chased down Blaney, but could not pass him as Blaney scored his third stage win of 2018. Behind the pair were Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Larson, Aric Almirola, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Bowyer.
Stage #2 began on lap 88 with Harvick and Blaney on the front row. Larson restarted eighth, but quickly improved to fifth. By the triple-digit mark, Larson was running fourth as Harvick increased his lead to 1.223 seconds over Blaney. During the first 30 laps of the stage, Keselowski and Daniel Suárez were also plagued by loose wheel problems. Keselowski pitted again on lap 122.
Chase Elliott and Bowyer commenced green flag pit stops on lap 124. Harvick followed, with Blaney soon after, resulting in the lead cycling between Larson, Kyle Busch, and Austin Dillon. Dillon pitted on lap 130 to give Harvick the lead back, though a strong run by Larson pushed him to first a lap later. Larson formed a considerable margin over Harvick that ballooned to nearly 1.5 seconds by lap 152. Although Harvick closed the gap, he could not pass him as Larson scored the stage win.
Larson led the field to the start of Stage #3 on lap 167 ahead of Harvick. It did not take long for the Elk Grove native to build an advantage over fellow Californian and the Bakersfield resident, as Larson led by over 1.02 seconds by lap 175.
The restart came with 25 laps to go. Larson, pushed by Blaney on the inside, appeared to have the early advantage until Harvick mounted a charge of his own. Blaney got loose and fell back, enabling Logano to enter the picture. Harvick eventually look the lead as Larson began to drop. Five laps after the restart, Blaney and Larson made contact twice, cutting Larson’s tire and sending Blaney into the turn one wall.
Byron took two tires to lead the race off pit road as Logano and Truex stayed out. Truex, seeking his third consecutive win at Kansas, pulled ahead, but green flag racing was short-lived as another caution came out a lap later for a major wreck. While running four-wide, Byron — who was on the inside line — got loose and clipped Bowyer, sending Byron into the wall. Byron went airborne and landed on Newman, while Kenseth, Chris Buescher, and Ty Dillon also suffered damage.
“That one hurt really bad, I’m fine,” Byron said. “We were trying to kinda push some things there but it just didn’t work out. […] It just wouldn’t turn on two tires.”
The red flag was brought out to clean up the track. When the race resumed with nine laps to go, Truex appeared to be in position to win. However, Harvick — on newer tires — breezed through the field from his restart position of sixth. With two laps left, Harvick made his move in turn four, and held off a final attempt by Truex to seal the win. Behind Truex were Logano, Larson, Hamlin, Paul Menard, Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Almirola, and Kyle Busch.
Harvick is the first driver since Jeff Gordon in 1997 to win five races in the first twelve events. That year, Gordon would go on to have seven victories by the halfway point, a feat that is not out of the realm of possibility for Harvick with six races left until midway.
“That was a wild last few laps,” Harvick stated in Victory Lane. “I was really tight on the bottom, so I started driving up top. […] Finally got to Victory Lane, I’m excited. […] Came down to restarts there at the end.”
Other finishers of note include Kenseth, who finished thirty-fifth after the crash. David Ragan finished thirteenth for his best finish of the season at a 1.5-mile track. Corey LaJoie, who has been plagued by engine failures throughout his part-time 2018 Cup campaign, scored a season-best finish of twenty-fifth.
The next Cup points race is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on 26 May. Before that, however, there is the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte. Kyle Busch is the defending winner.
2018 KC Masterpiece 400 results
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