In the latest instance of Kevin Harvick rising to the occasion in NASCAR's playoffs, he went from being on the Chase for the Sprint Cup bubble to a guaranteed spot in the semifinal round by winning Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
Harvick was second to Carl Edwards when a Regan Smith accident brought out the eighth caution of the afternoon. On the subsequent restart with 30 laps remaining, Harvick got a better jump than Edwards and nosed ahead entering Turn 1. Harvick then completed the pass off Turn 2 and pulled away down the backstretch.
"The key to the restart was just timing," Harvick said. "I was able to keep [Jimmie Johnson] behind me. He was right next to my bumper. There was nobody behind [Edwards]. That was really the key to the restart. He had a car length between him once we got to the start/finish line from the fourth-place car and he didn't have anybody to carry the momentum down there.
"The second piece was being able to clear him and break that side draft. We were able to just drive off because they kept side-by-side. That was really what allowed us to get out front."
It was Harvick's fourth overall victory of 2016 and second in the past five Chase races. Edwards finished second, followed by Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Austin Dillon. Alex Bowman, substituting for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished a career-best seventh, with AJ Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, and Kasey Kahne rounding out the top 10.
Since the knockout Chase format was introduced prior to the 2014 season, Harvick has habitually come through in races he needed. He won the semifinal round elimination race two years ago to earn a berth in the championship finale, where he ultimately prevailed. Last year, in a must-win situation in the Round 1 elimination race, he again captured the checkered flag.
The 2014 series champion entered Kansas eight points behind the cutline after mechanical troubles slowed him last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Harvick and Johnson, who won at Charlotte, are the only two of a dozen title-eligible drivers assured to advance to the third Chase round. The remaining six positions will be determined following next Sunday's elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway.
"We've been fortunate to be on the good side of this deal for three years now," Harvick said. "We know we can perform. We know we can perform in good and bad situations. That's not something we really even talk about because we've already done all that."
For the second week in a row several title-eligible drivers experienced assorted problems. Brad Keselowski suffered heavy damage to the frontend of his car after he got loose and contact with Denny Hamlin sent him spinning through the front stretch grass. He finished 38th, a costly result with Keselowski going from 25 points clear of transferring to seven points behind Logano and Dillon, who are tied for the eighth position.
"I probably could have raced less hard with a big points gap coming in," Keselowski said. "With this format it is probably the smart thing to do, but I don't want to race like that. I want to race my guts out and go for wins. I don't want to points race. I don't care what the damn format is, I am going to give it my best."
Rookie Chase Elliott emerged in the middle portion as a potential winner, passing Harvick for the lead on Lap 169 of 267, but rear suspension issues would later slow him. He finished 31st.
Martin Truex Jr. had multiple pit stops where he didn't receive the full allotment of fuel that required two off-sequence stops. He finished 11th.
And though Hamlin finished 15th, he first had to overcome a broken splitter and later two pit road penalties. He trails Logano and Dillon by six points.
"This is a team sport and you've got to have every facet of the car and the team all put together and we've just got to execute," Hamlin said. "I've got full confidence we can go to Talladega and win next week and we'll show that when we get there."
HOLLYWOOD CASINO 400 RESULTS
|11||4||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||267||Running||0|
|19||18||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||267||Running||0|