It’s a clichéd statement in the sports world, but the term “woodshed whooping” perfectly sums up Kevin Harvick’s run in the Pennzoil Las Vegas 400. How else would you describe a race in which a driver led 214 of 267 laps, on his way to winning back to back Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races to open the season?
“Yeah, just proud of everybody on our Jimmy John’s Busch Ford for just doing a great job with the race cars,” Harvick said. “These last two weeks, we’ve just hit on what we needed to. This stems back to last year when (our) mile and a half program got so much better at the end of the year and they’ve done their homework on a number of things.”
Harvick powered by Ryan Blaney on the highside, exiting Turn 2, to take the lead on the second lap. He surrendered it to pit on Lap 38. It cycled back to him, after a few laps in the reigns of Michael McDowell, and he drove on to win the caution-free first stage.
The race went back to green on Lap 89. Just as it was in the first stage, the second was broken up by green flag stops halfway through. Harvick pitted from the lead on Lap 121, handing it to Kyle Busch (the first non-Ford driver to lead all day). He pitted three laps later, and the lead cycled back to Harvick, who completed a sweep of the stages.
Harvick squandered the lead, as a result of a slow stop during the stage break. Joey Logano exited with the lead.
The race went back to green with 101 laps to go. Caution flew for the third time with 91 to go when Jamie McMurray suffered a right-front tire blowout and slammed the wall in Turn 2. Martin Truex Jr. opted not to pit and took over the race lead.
Back to green with 85 to go, Joey Logano shot past Truex exiting Turn 2 to retake the lead. Before the lap concluded, Kurt Busch got loose, came up and across the nose of Chase Elliott, hooking him into the Turn 4 wall, which brought out the fourth caution.
The race restarted with 74 to go. Logano got the jump on Harvick at first, but he couldn’t fend off Harvick on just two new tires, going into Turn 1, and Harvick reclaimed the race lead with 73 to go. Harvick pitted from the lead for the final time with 42 to go, handing the lead to Kyle Busch. He pitted with 38 to go, and the lead cycled back to Harvick.
Kyle Busch attempted to spice up the finish in the closing 20 laps, after passing Brad Keselowski for second with ease, but didn’t close the gap to Harvick in time.
“Our M&M’s Camry was really strong there the last 100 laps of the race. Early on, just having to start the race on our qualifiers (tires) was just really bad for us and then we overtightened, overadjusted for the second run. From there, we were just kind of making small tweaks to it to get it back, and she was really fast, rolling really good the last 100 laps or so. Five of those guys would kind of short-pit, and we’d go on the long side of it, and I think that kind of helped us, too, be able to drive back up through those guys a little bit easier.
“The M&M’s Caramel Camry was really good. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a great job this weekend. We came here. We prepared well. Did a good job through practice, getting a great race car. Just no catching that 4 (Harvick). They were just on rails today and they were lights out. I don’t know what we need to do to catch up, to get better to those guys, but we got some homework to do and need to get a little bit better, especially here at Vegas.
“Overall, great day for us, and we’ll go to Phoenix.”
Larson, Truex and Blaney rounded out the Top-five.
Keselowski, Logano, Erik Jones, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola rounded out the Top-10.
NUTS & BOLTS
The race lasted two hours, 49 minutes and 31 seconds, at an average speed of 141.756 mph. There were 11 lead changes among six different drivers and four cautions for 29 laps.
Harvick leaves Las Vegas with a three-point lead over Logano.