Har­vick ad­vances in Chase

He takes lead on last restart to win, clinch spot in next round

Baltimore Sun - - NASCAR - By Dave Skretta

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — No mat­ter what kind of mis­for­tune be­falls Kevin Har­vick in the early rounds of the Chase for the Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship, his team al­ways seems to get things to­gether when it mat­ters.

The No. 4 crew did it again Sun­day.

One week af­ter a me­chan­i­cal prob­lem doomed him to a bad fin­ish at Char­lotte, and put his hopes of ad­vanc­ing to the round of eight in jeop­ardy, Har­vick roared to the front on the fi­nal restart to win the Hol­ly­wood Casino 400 at Kansas Speed­way and take the pres­sure off next week’s elim­i­na­tion race at Tal­ladega.

“These races are hard to win and these guys are so good at the de­tails,” said Har­vick, the 2014 cham­pion, “and when you put their backs against the wall they’re even bet­ter. I’m so proud of them.”

Har­vick was among the fastest in the fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing session, and hung around the front all day while other Chase con­tenders fal­tered. He was still at the front when Re­gan Smith brought out the fi­nal cau­tion, and was able to keep Carl Ed­wards at bay over the fi­nal 30 laps.

“I was pretty sure we were in con­trol of the race,” said Ed­wards, a Mis­souri na­tive who has yet to win at what he con­sid­ers his home track. “As much fun as I had run­ning up front, it stings. There’s neg­a­tive emo­tions tied up with not win­ning here with that fast of a car.”

It was the fourth win of the sea­son for Har­vick, and his sec­ond of the Chase — he re­bounded from a poor per­for­mance at Chicago to win at New Hamp­shire and ad­vance from the round of 16.

He joined Jim­mie John­son, the win­ner at Char­lotte, in se­cur­ing a spot in the next round of NASCAR’s play­offs, while also ramp­ing up the pres­sure on the other 10 con­tenders fight­ing for points.

“They usu­ally, when it comes to this sit­u­a­tion, find a lit­tle more speed in their cars,” said Joey Logano, who fin­ished third and sits in the pre­car­i­ous eighth spot in points. “I don’t know how, but it seems like in must-win sit­u­a­tions they al­ways find a lit­tle more speed.”

John­son was fourth, fol­lowed by fel­low Chase driv­ers Kyle Busch and Austin Dil­lon. Matt Kenseth was ninth af­ter dom­i­nat­ing the first half of the race from the pole, giv­ing him a solid points cush­ion as the se­ries heads to the un­pre­dictable pres­sure cooker at Tal­ladega. Other driv­ers com­pet­ing for the cham­pi­onship dealt with trou­ble all after­noon.

Martin Truex Jr. again found him­self at the front at Kansas, only to have prob­lems with the re­fu­el­ing mech­a­nism that forced him to pit out of se­quence. He wound up 11th and sits sev­enth in points.

Kurt Busch fin­ished two spots back in 13th af­ter hav­ing to go to his backup car. He spun into the grass on the front stretch with se­conds to go in the fi­nal prac­tice session Satur­day, tear­ing up the front of his car and forc­ing him to start from the back of the field.

Denny Ham­lin had trou­ble with the front split­ter that cre­ates down­force on his car, send­ing him to the pits for re­pairs. He was also pe­nal­ized for a loose tire but ral­lied to fin­ish 15th.

The big­gest losers on the day were Brad Ke­selowski and Chase El­liott.

Ke­selowski be­gan wig­gling with 78 laps re­main­ing, and Ham­lin came up be­hind him and a tap sent the No. 2 car shoot­ing down the track. He slammed into the grassy turf, tore up the front of his car and wound up 38th, put­ting him seven points out of the eighth and fi­nal spot in the Chase.

“It’s an au­to­mo­tive war zone here. There’s parts, there’s pieces, they were work­ing un­der it, there was oil, there was fire at one point,” said Ke­selowski, who briefly got back onto the track be­fore re­tir­ing for the day. “If my guys keep put­ting in this ef­fort, I’m not wor­ried.”

El­liott was near the front when his left rear tire be­gan rub­bing on his fender, forc­ing a stop that left him a lap down. He­m­an­aged to get back on the lead lap, only to have the same prob­lem with an­other set of tires that forced him into an­other un­sched­uled stop.

He wound up fin­ish­ing 31st and is 25 points out of the fi­nal spot in the round of eight, which es­sen­tially makes Tal­ladega a must-win sit­u­a­tion for the Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports rookie.

In other words, all the pres­sure that Har­vick avoided with his win.

JOSH HEDGES/GETTY IM­AGES

Kevin Har­vick cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the Hol­ly­wood Casino 400 Sun­day at Kansas Speed­way in Kansas City, Kan. “These races are hard to win and these guys are so good at the de­tails,” Har­vick said of his crew.

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