Kevin Harvick

In The Fast Lane: Most Improved after Las Vegas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

The start of NASCAR’s three race stint, known as the “West Coast Swing,” began with a quick start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Last week’s winner Kevin Harvick picked up where he left off, while another champion struggled before the green flag even dropped.

This week’s Top 5 dominated, rebounded, and maintained consistency for finishes of 12th or better.

No. 1 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford team did a complete 180 from one year ago, when a crash was the result of finishing 38th out of 39 cars.

Harvick continued his dominance in Las Vegas to earn his second win this season, leading a stellar 214 of 267 laps – the most by any driver at the 1.5-mile track.

Harvick took the lead from polesitter Ryan Blaney on Lap 2 of the Pennzoil 400, and soon began to lap the field. Harvick put half the field at least one lap down before the end of Stage 1.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned his 100th career victory through NASCAR’s three national series, crossing the finish line 2.906 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch and 13 seconds ahead of third place finisher Kyle Larson.

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson – Jimmie Johnson started in the back on Sunday after failing pre-race inspection three times. The Hendrick Motorsports driver remained focused and determined, gaining nine spots in the first stage while fighting with handling issues.

After putting fresh tires on before the start of Stage 2, Johnson continued toward the front. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet finished in the 20th position at the end of the second stage, two laps behind leader Harvick.

Johnson rebounded to earn a 12th place finish, his first top-15 of the season after crashes at Daytona and Atlanta resulted in finishes of 27th or worse.

Johnson sits 29th in the standings after three races. Will more improvements continue for Johnson? A top-10 at ISM Raceway would be just what he needs going forward, a top-5 could put Johnson on a steady pace back into familiar territory.

No. 3 Kyle Busch – Kyle Busch finds himself among the most improved after a second-place finish, a gain of 20 positions from last season.

Busch’s day in Sin City was much quieter than in 2017, when he confronted Team Penske’s Joey Logano on pit road post-race.

Busch led twice for a total of ten laps. He sits fifth in the standings, along with Kyle Larson, 31 points behind Harvick, who is the new points leader.

No. 4 Paul Menard – Paul Menard earned his second top-10 of the season at Las Vegas, finishing in the ninth position.

Menard’s stats through three races have steadily improved from years past.

The last time the Wood Brothers Racing driver scored two top 10s within the first three races was in 2012, when he finished sixth in the Daytona 500, and seventh two week’s later in Vegas.

Menard sits ninth in the standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series continues on the West Coast Swing to ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Sunday, March 11th.

No. 5 Erik Jones – Erik Jones has a lot that he could be happy about heading into this weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is coming off his first top-10 of the season, after finishing 11th at Atlanta and in the 36th position at Daytona.

The 21-year-old has made consistent improvements since the season opener and is headed to the very same track where his No. 20 Toyota sat in Victory Lane last November with Matt Kenseth.

Can Jones earn his first MENCS victory and secure his way into the playoffs with an early victory? If the JGR driver builds on his performance, we could see the young star in victory lane sooner rather than later.

 

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Kevin Harvick dominates at Las Vegas

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Photo by: Matt Sullivan

Another driver hit a milestone during the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon. Kevin Harvick parked it in victory lane for his 100th career victory across the national series, leading 214 of 267 laps for back-to-back wins this season.

Like Martin Truex Jr. did one year ago, Harvick won Stage 1 and Stage 2 before taking the checkered by almost three seconds to Kyle Busch.

“I think as you look back and you look at all the different wins and the wins that we have had here and at KHI and Richard Childress Racing and Junior Motorsports. All the different vehicles I have been fortunate to drive, and there have been a lot of good ones,” Harvick said. “I know how hard it is to get to Victory Lane and to know we have been there 100 times is something I almost can’t fathom.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver gained the series points standing lead after his dominance at the 1.5-mile track, taking over from Joey Logano by three points and Ryan Blaney, who sits third, by four.

Kyle Larson finished third, coming off his Xfinity win on Saturday, while Truex and Blaney rounded out the top-5.

Blaney’s teammates finished behind him, with Brad Keselowski finishing sixth and Logano earning seventh place. Logano led 25 laps in the second half of the race.

Erik Jones, Paul Menard, and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-10.

Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch finished 34th and 35th, respectively, after the No. 41 Ford got loose on Lap 183. Busch came up the track and into Elliott, who had nowhere else to go.

Jimmie Johnson came from behind to finish 12th after starting in the back due to failing inspection three times before the start of the race. Johnson went two laps down early in the race, but recovered for his first top-15 of the season.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to ISM Raceway on Sunday, March 11, 2018.

Ryan Newman scored the victory over Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch in 2017. Can the RCR driver repeat?

Will Harvick win three straight or will someone else earn their first victory of the season? Find out March 11th at 3:30 p.m ET on FOX.

In the Fast Lane: Most Improved after Atlanta

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Photo by: Kevin C. Cox

The weather at Atlanta Motor Speedway hindered the start of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, causing a two-hour rain delay before taking the green on Sunday afternoon.

A veteran overcame pit road issues to score his second victory at the track in an astonishing time gap since his first, all while paying tribute to the late driver he replaced.

This week’s Top 5 were steady contenders, one driver used a different strategy from the rest to advance his chances at an early season victory, while others were consistent in earning stage points.

No. 1 Denny Hamlin – Denny Hamlin went from the bottom of the grid to the top of it, jumping 34 spots from a year ago when a broken rear-end ended his day in the 2017 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

This year the Joe Gibbs Racing driver used a two-pit-stop strategy during the final stage in an attempt to earn him a win at the 1.5-mile track. Hamlin’s first win at Atlanta came in 2012, and he has a 22.8 average finish since the victory.

No. 2 Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick’s recent dominance at Atlanta has proven that it was only a matter of time before the Stewart-Haas Racing driver returned to victory lane there.

Almost two decades separate the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s two wins at the track. Harvick won in just his fourth start in 2001 for Richard Childress Racing driving the No. 29. Harvick returned to victory lane in the No. 4 saluting Earnhardt just as he did 17 years ago.

Harvick was one of several drivers that dealt with pit-gun problems while being serviced on pit road. Harvick overcame the trouble to earn the 38th MENCS victory of his career.

No. 3 Aric Almirola – Aric Almirola has not wasted any time showcasing his talent and deservingness with the No. 10 Smithfield Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Almirola started 11th and finished in the 13th position, but was a top contender throughout the event. Almirola earned stage points in two of the three stages, finishing fifth in Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2. He sits ninth in the points standings, tied with Paul Menard with 66 points.

No. 4 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon had a quiet, but effective day – earning a 14th place finish. Dillon ran as high as sixth, with a 15th average position throughout 500 miles.

Dillon has failed to earn a top-5 or top-10 at the oval since becoming a full-time driver in 2014, but he has made some gains. Dillon improved his finish by 18 positions from one year ago.

The Richard Childress Racing driver sits sixth in the standings, 19 points behind new points leader Joey Logano.

No.5 Clint Bowyer – Clint Bowyer earned his first top-5 finish at Atlanta after finishing third on Sunday. Bowyer was the runner-up after Stage 1 and finished ninth in Stage 2, before earning his first top-5 of the season.

Bowyer jumped eight spots in the standings, from 13th to fifth. Three points separate him from Hamlin in third, and 15 from Logano.

Can Bowyer break a 187-race winless streak to score his first win in almost five years at Las Vegas?

Notables: Daniel Suarez excelled at Atlanta before falling back to a 15th place finish, the lowest position for the 26-year-old throughout the day. He was as high as third and earned a 10th place finish at the end of Stage 2.

Several drivers, including defending MENCS champion Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, and Harvick, had problems with the new mandatory pit guns. Truex’s team went through three guns because they failed to work properly.  Will the problems be consistent or will they be resolved early in the season?

Kevin Harvick wins at Atlanta


Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

It took Kevin Harvick 17 years to return to Victory Lane at Atlanta Motor Speedway, home of the 2014 champion’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.

Harvick was dominate once again at the 1.54-mile track. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 181 of 325 laps as well as finishing almost three seconds ahead of second place, Brad Keselowski.

Just like in 2001, Harvick held three fingers out the window of his No. 4 Jimmy Johns Ford to pay tribute to the late Dale Earnhardt.

“I’m just so proud of everybody on our team,” Harvick said. “That was the first win in my career (in 2001), and to be able to do that and pay tribute to Dale was pretty cool. I’ve been waiting a long time to do that.”

“I love racing here, and it’s good to be back in Victory Lane – finally. It took a while.”

Harvick overcame early pit road problems when pit gun issues forced the driver to return to double check all the lugnuts before returning to competition.

Harvick started the second stage of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 in the 16th position on Lap 94. 32 laps later, Harvick passed teammate Kurt Busch for the lead.

Jimmie Johnson brought out the first caution for an incident on Lap 160. The 7-time champion blew a tire that caused him to spin in Turn 2. The Hendrick Motorsports driver sustained significant damage to his Lowe’s for Pros Chevrolet. He finished in the 27th position, four laps down.

Trevor Bayne blew an engine late in the event on Lap 297, leaving a cloud of smoke in his rear view. The smoke left rookie Bubba Wallace blinded, ultimately running into the back of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Five Fords finished inside the top 10. Brad Keselowski finished second, Clint Bowyer third, while Joey Logano and Busch finished sixth and eighth, respectively.

Logano takes the series points lead after the second race of the season, six points over teammate Ryan Blaney.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Las Vegas for the first of three events on the West Coast on March 4, 2018.

Martin Truex Jr. dominated in 2017, winning each stage, and passing Brad Keselowski in the final laps for his first Cup victory in Sin City.

Don’t miss Truex attempt to defend his victory on Sunday, March 4th at 3:30 p.m ET on FOX.

Kevin Harvick Earns Texas Victory

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Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey

Kevin Harvick became “The Closer” once again for the second time this season, passing Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps at Texas Motor Speedway to earn his first career win at the 1.5-mile track.

Harvick’s 37th career victory guarantees him a chance to battle for the 2017 championship at Homestead in two weeks.

“This feels so good,” Harvick said, “We have been qualifying well here and racing well ever since I have been at Stewart-Haas Racing and just never got it to work out to go to Victory Lane. Today we had to earn it. To be able to pass the 78 car for the win is something that is huge for our confidence and team knowing we need to go to another 1.5 mile (track) at Homestead to race for the championship.”

Truex finished second after leading 107 of 334 laps, but the Furniture Row Racing driver still has reason to celebrate. Truex secured his way into the Championship 4 based on points, joining Harvick and Kyle Busch in the final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

“At the start of the race, our car wasn’t very good,” Truex said. “Track position was a big part of this race. We fought the car. We fought track position. We got the lead, led some laps. Ultimately, at the end, we weren’t as good as we needed to be to win.”

“A little disappointed to come up short, but to clinch a spot in Miami is unbelievable. Definitely got the job done today and came here and did what we needed to do.”

Matt Kenseth earned his first top-5 finish since Loudon in September, one day after saying that he will likely step away from Cup full-time at season’s end. He led 29 laps before finishing fourth.

Kyle Larson hit the wall and ended up in flames on Lap 282. The incident was the driver’s third weekend in a row which ended in finishes of 37th or worse.

Last week’s winner and Brad Keselowski were also faced with trouble on the first lap of the event. The two made contact and were forced to pit to access damages. Keselowski rebounded and finished fifth, while Busch had additional issues on Lap 275. He finished in the 19th position.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 12th to set the field for the Championship 4.

Five different drivers (Keselowski, Hamlin, Blaney, Elliott, and Johnson) are left with only one spot available. Who will advance? Find out on November 12th at 2:30 p.m ET on the NBC Sports Network.

Kevin Harvick wins at Sonoma

Photo by: Jared C. Tilton

If there were ever any concerns about 2014 Champion Kevin Harvick reaching victory lane this season, those quickly diminished at the end of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Harvick dominated the final stage of the event, leading 24 laps, and holding more than an eight-second lead before Kasey Kahne’s hard hit brought out the caution on the final lap.

“I’m so excited,” Harvick said in Victory Lane. “I think, as you look at it, getting our first win with Ford, this has been a great journey for us as an organization and team. (Teammate) Kurt (Busch) winning the Daytona 500, and we have run well.”

Stewart-Haas Racing secured the top two spots during Sunday’s event, as Harvick’s teammate Clint Bowyer used strategy to his advantage for another second place finish this season. Kurt Busch finished seventh and Danica Patrick finished 17th.

Stage 1 winner Martin Truex Jr. finished 37th after leading a race-high 25 laps. Truex reported issues with his No. 78 Toyota for several laps before the engine gave out on Lap 86 while on pit road.

“For about the past 20 laps, I’ve been on seven cylinders,” Truex said of his sputtering engine. “After we made that last pit stop, when we lost the lead to (Kevin) Harvick, soon as I left pit road, I lost a cylinder. I was surprised we were able to keep up with them as well as we could on seven, but just shows how strong the car was. Just wasn’t meant to be today.”

Kyle Larson now holds the series points standings 13 points ahead of Truex. Larson finished 26th in his fourth attempt at the road course.

Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and 2015 Sonoma winner Kyle Busch rounded out the top 5, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. battled back for sixth after contact with Patrick and a speeding penalty.

NASCAR returns to NBC on July 1, 2017 when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Daytona at 7:30 p.m ET.