Kansas City, Kan. — Nobody has been able to keep pace with Kevin Harvick this season.
Not even the reigning series champion on a track where he swept both races last season.
Harvick surged past Martin Truex Jr. with one lap to go Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, winning for the fifth time in what has turned out to be a record-setting start to the year. His total matches a career high for Harvick, who still has 24 chances to win a few more Monster Energy Cup Series races.
Nobody had ever won five of the first 12 races in NASCAR’s top series.
“Man, that was wild the last few laps,” said Harvick, who deftly dodged a couple late-race cautions, then used four fresh tires to roar to the front on the final restart with 10 laps remaining.
“That was so fun,” he said, “hearing those fans screaming and yelling. It was a great race.”
Harvick made the final pass as he crossed the start-finish line to take the white flag, while Truex chased him the final lap to finish second — a strong showing after his two wins at Kansas last year.
“He just got through traffic too quick and was too fast,” Truex said. “The flip switched, I got tight, started shaking the right front tire and I knew I was in trouble. He was coming quick.”
Joey Logano finished third, and Kyle Larson rallied from a late tangle with Ryan Blaney to finish fourth. Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“Kevin was ripping there with the new tires at the end. He was the fastest,” Logano said. “My only show was those guys (Harvick and Truex) wrecking each other and they’re too good for that.”
The race was free of wrecks until the last 30 laps, when Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez got into each other. But things really shook up a few laps later, when Harvick passed Larson on the restart to assume control, and the No. 42 car began bumping with Blaney down the front stretch.
Those two got together, sending Blaney into the wall and Larson into the pits.
“I’m definitely to blame on that,” said Blaney, who won the first stage before Larson had charged to the front to capture the second. “Just trying to side-drift too hard.”
The race had barely returned to green when William Byron triggered a heavy wreck in front of the grandstand. Local favorites Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray were among a half-dozen cars involved.
“That one hurt really bad, but I’m fine,” Byron said. “We took two tires and just couldn’t get it turned on the bottom. We were trying to kind of push some things there and it didn’t work out.”
The red flag set up one last sprint to the finish.
Truex used some pit strategy to restart in the lead, and quickly built a buffer. But the No. 4 car swept past Logano and Hamlin on the outside to put Truex in his sights, then Harvick closed on the lead until finally overtaking the reigning series champion with a lap to go.
“They’re hitting on all cylinders,” Truex said. “They’ve got a great balanced race car and they’re doing all the right things, and we’re just a step behind.”
Power lands Penske 200th win
Will Power’s timing was impeccable .
He picked the perfect strategy with his red tires. He pressed the push-to-pass button at precisely the right moment. He gave Roger Penske his 200th series win at Penske’s place – Indianapolis.
Power overcame a late caution period that shrunk his lead, barely won the race off pit lane on the final stop and even drove through some light rain to pull away from Scott Dixon by 2.2443 seconds for his second straight IndyCar Grand Prix victory.
“It’s been a slow start for us, so it’s fantastic to get the win,” the first three-time race winner said. “It’s amazing to be a part of that history with Penske Racing because it’s such a deep history.”
It might be just what the Australian needed.
He came into the weekend with only one top-five finish all season, a second at Long Beach. The only other top-10 he had this season was in the season opener at St. Petersburg.
But Power won the pole Friday and dominated again on Indy’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. He led a race-high 56 laps including the last 34 after taking advantage of his tire choice to quickly close the gap with race leader Robert Wickens on the front straightaway before making a smooth move to beat the rookie into the first turn on Lap 51.
“He was on blacks and I was on reds, so I returned the favor and really caught him,” Power said. “Once I got past him it was pretty straight forward because we were much faster.”
Power has won three of the last four road-course events at Indy – all from the pole.
Wickens, a Canadian who drives for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, finished third more than 8.1 seconds off the pace.
“That was the first time where I felt like a true rookie in that final stint because I’ve never had to save fuel before,” Wickens said. “The amount we had to save was something I didn’t think was even possible.”
Power and Dixon didn’t have any problems, of course.
Dixon, the New Zealander with Chip Ganassi Racing, methodically maneuvered through the field after starting 18th. He managed to get into the top three but never really got close enough to challenge Power.
“It was definitely a rough weekend,” Dixon said. “Happy with today. Obviously, we come here to win but congrats to Will and Penske on their 200th win.”
The only thing that seemed to slow down Power was the caution that came on Lap 56 when his teammate Josef Newgarden spun in the 12th turn. The yellow flag shrunk Power’s lead from more than four seconds to less than one.
Then he barely beat Wickens off pit lane on the final stop and never looked back.
“Every lap was like qualifying. That’s the first time I’ve had to do that in a race,” Power said after handing Penske his fourth straight win in the race. “Today, I drove just absolutely perfect.”
Seven drivers led the race, tying a record set in 2014, and there were 214 total passes. Chevrolet now leads Honda 3-2 in victories in the engine manufacturer’s race.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves finished sixth in his season debut.
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