KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick didn’t simply have his hands full with the rest of the Sprint Cup field Sunday. He also was trying to tame a squirrely surface at Kansas Speedway.
He handled both better than anybody else.
Harvick pulled away from Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon on a late restart to win a wreck-filled race over the recently repaved track, keeping his No. 29 Chevrolet out of trouble all afternoon and making a big move in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“It was an interesting weekend, to say the least,” said Harvick, who moved into third in points behind leaders Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. “Everybody was battling the tires and the track, and I think it was like driving on a razor blade.”
Harvick sat on the pole for the first time in 254 races, and that should have given him some confidence. He also won the last time he qualified first, at New Hampshire in 2006.
“These guys just did a great job all weekend,” Harvick said. “To have a car fast enough for me to qualify on the pole says a lot about how fast this thing is.”
Harvick was chased across the line by Busch and Gordon. Joey Logano finished fourth, Carl Edwards was fifth, and Johnson finished sixth despite a hiccup with his engine on the final lap that cost him a spot on the track.
Kenseth held onto his lead in the Chase with an 11th-place finish. Johnson narrowed the gap to three points, while Harvick closed within 25 points heading to Charlotte.
“We just got to keep doing what we did today to be a contender,” said his car owner, Richard Childress. “I don’t think top 10s will win a championship when you’re racing Jimmie Johnson and the group of guys that are up there.”
Kyle Busch was the big loser after crashing out of his third straight Sprint Cup race at Kansas. He dropped from third in points to fifth, 35 out of first place.
“All in all just a crazy day,” said Johnson, who shaved five points off Kenseth’s lead. “Wacky restarts, a lot of chaos there, and caution after caution for who knows what.”
There were 15 cautions in the race, breaking the record of 14 set in last year’s race. The first came when the race wasn’t even a lap old and Danica Patrick slammed into the wall, and most of them occurred when cars got loose coming out of Turn 2.
Kenseth both called the race “treacherous,” pointing to the combination of a repave last year and Goodyear’s new “multi-zone” tires that made it seem as if they were skating across a smooth, glasslike surface most of the afternoon. All of it was compounded by temperatures in the 50s at the start, more than 30 degrees cooler than practice earlier in the week.
“It’s all about restarts and making sure you can gain spots, but it’s treacherous,” Kurt Busch said. “You had to have a lot of give and take.”
One of the intriguing story lines coming into the race involved Chase contender Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who got together in the Nationwide race Saturday.
Keselowski said that Busch intentionally dumped him and seemed to indicate he would retaliate in the Sprint Cup race. Keselowski even asked NASCAR President Mike Helton in the prerace driver’s meeting about the line between hard racing and intentional wrecks.
It turned out that Busch kept going for spins without Keselowski’s help.
The first one came down the front stretch when he appeared to squeeze Juan Pablo Montoya, sending Busch sideways across the track. The second spin came after a restart a moment later, and this one sent his No. 18 Toyota head-first into the Turn 1 wall and ended his day.
“I have no idea what happened, but it’s Kansas. It’s what we do here, we just crash,” Busch said. “The racetrack is the worst racetrack I’ve ever driven on. The tires are the worst tires I’ve ever driven on, and track position is everything. You can’t do anything.”
Harvick didn’t seem to have a whole lot of trouble with track, or the tires.
He was fast from the moment he unloaded this weekend, and then turned heads with his fast qualifying run. Harvick got off pit sequence early in the race and was shuffled to the back of the pack, but he was fast every time he got into clean air.
That was the case at the end, when he pulled away for an easy victory.
“The car was just really tight and then we got better as the cloud cover came over and we found that middle line,” Harvick said. “Track position was so important. It was a good day, and just happy as heck for everybody on this team.”