Last season’s Sprint Cup champion will have the opportunity to win another.
Despite feeling some bad vibrations in the car in the final laps, Kevin Harvick easily held off Martin Truex Jr. to win Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his first series victory and all-but ensuring him a chance to compete in this season’s championship Chase.
Ryan Newman finished third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth and Denny Hamlin was fifth.
The win is the 29th of Harvick’s career and first at Las Vegas. Harvick has now won three of the series’ past six races.
On Lap 230 of 267, teams began the final green-flag pit stops of the race. Earnhardt took two new tires while Harvick took four, and Earnhardt came off pit road first. Before the rest of the cars had finished their stops, Harvick already had powered around Earnhardt and put himself back into position to reclaim the lead on Lap 253.
Three who mattered
Kevin Harvick: Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team seems to have picked up where it left off from last season, when Harvick won his first series championship.
Martin Truex Jr.: What a difference a year makes. Truex had one of worst seasons of his career last year, but he has been on fire in 2015 and was in position to claim the win if Harvick faltered at the finish.
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson appeared to have a rocket ship Sunday but was forced to pit under green early in the race for a loose wheel and then wrecked twice because of tire issues.
They said it
“It’s so cool to win here in Las Vegas, and to start this West Coast swing off this way is pretty awesome.” – Kevin Harvick
▪ No question Harvick remains the class of the SHR organization, but the difficulties for Tony Stewart to start the 2015 season are perplexing. Stewart seemed particularly flustered with the performance of his car almost from the start of the race and by the end finished five laps down, in part to a couple of pit-road penalties. In fact, Harvick was the only one of the four SHR teams to finish on the lead lap.
▪ Ford, particularly Roush Fenway Racing, used to own Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Sunday’s race was another mediocre performance for the struggling organization as its three teams finished 14th, 28th and 29th.
▪ Two races into the new rules package and the quality of the racing on the intermediate tracks doesn’t seem much different from last season. In some respects, last year’s Las Vegas race was better than this year’s. The reduction of horsepower and downforce hasn’t produced the expected lower speeds, either, as cars now travel faster through the corners to offset a lack of straightaway speed.
Two fast cars find trouble: Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards ran in contention for the win most of the race, with Kahne one of the few cars that could seem to keep pace with Harvick.
On Lap 194, Edwards got into Kahne, who pancaked the right side of his No. 5 Chevrolet. Kahne then returned the favor with a nudge of Edwards that triggered a wreck.
“The way it played out I feel like we would have been able to race Harvick for the win,” Kahne said. “He was unreal throughout the entire race, but I felt like my car was unreal, too. Carl apologized and said he feels like he hasn’t done that before to anyone.”
In an interview in the garage after the incident, Edwards took full responsibility for the wreck.
Another bad day for Gordon: Jeff Gordon’s troubles continued in his final season of full-time competition. He won the pole for Sunday’s race but had to start from the back with a backup car after getting caught up in a wreck Saturday in final practice.
He appeared to be making solid progress Sunday but late in the race slammed into Jeb Burton’s car, which slowed behind one of Johnson’s wrecks. He ended up 18th, which is still his best performance in the season’s three races.
“I didn’t realize until right at that moment when my spotter said something to me that Jimmie was having a problem; and I ran into the back of (Burton),” Gordon said. “It ruined our day and certainly ruined the front end.”
Where/when: Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Ariz., 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
TV: Fox.Radio: Motor Racing Network.
Three tweets from Sunday’s race: