This year’s Kansas spring race seemed to be wrapping up as one of the most uneventful races of the season. But, late in the race that all changed. The final 31 laps included three cautions that would reshape the layout of the field from top to bottom. But at the end of the race, victory lane was reunited with a common visitor.
Several cars including Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth and a few others, were forced to start the rear for differing reasons. Larson for spinning in practice and needing to change tires, and Bowyer, Kenseth and others for failing pre-qualifying inspection.
The first stage kicked off with the sport’s hottest driver on the pole, Kevin Harvick. Ryan Blaney began the race in second next to Harvick.
Within the first 15 laps of the race, Larson and Bowyer drove their way inside the top-15. And by the time the competition caution came out on lap 31, Larson had cracked the top-10.
To restart the race after the competition caution, Blaney nabbed the first spot as he beat Harvick out of the pits.
Off the restart, Blaney was able to escape from Harvick to maintain his lead. He was able to lead the rest of the stage unbothered until Harvick tracked him down with less than 10 to go.
Jimmie Johnson found himself one lap down and right in front of Blaney with the threat of going to laps down. He battled hard to remain in front of him, allowing Harvick to close to Blaney’s bumper.
Johnson was able to elude the leaders for the few remaining laps and end the stage only one lap down.
Blaney managed to hold off the hard-charging Harvick for a third stage win of the season. The top-5 was rounded out by Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson.
Although Blaney won stage one, Harvick won the race off pit road to restart first with Blaney next to him in second.
Off the restart, Harvick easily pulled away from Blaney in second and Logano in third.
After a handful of laps, Larson closed in on Logano and took the position away, moving him into the top-3 for the first time all night.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 43 of the stage. Once they were completed, Kevin Harvick cycle back out to the race leader.
Larson had a faster stop than Blaney, allowing him to get back onto the race track ahead of Blaney for second.
Clearly the faster car, Larson was able to run down Harvick and take the lead away on lap 51.
Larson held onto the lead for the remainder of the stage and collected his first stage win of the 2018 season. Surprisingly, it took him 12 races to get his first stage win.
Larson passed Jimmie Johnson on the last corner of the final lap to put him two laps down, essentially ending his chances at a good finish.
Harvick, Blaney, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano rounded out the top-5 for stage two.
Final Stage: Part One – Calm Before the Storm
Heading into the final stage the race had experienced only two cautions, both from the conclusions of stages. Plus, all 38 cars that started the race were all still running, an unusual thing to see heading into the final stage of the race.
To start the final stage, the top-6 remained the same as it did when the second stage ended. Larson restarted first with Harvick in second. On the restart, Larson pulled away with the lead and Harvick slide into second.
Final Stage: Part Two – Intensity Rising
The caution finally came out for something other than a stage ending with just 31 laps to go. Daniel Suarez got loose, bounced off the wall and made heavy contact with Alex Bowman to bring out the yellow.
Larson and William Byron did a great job of swerving through the cars and the smoke to avoid wrecking.
Larson came out first from pit road with Harvick in second. William Byron took only two tires and jumped up nine positions to the 5th spot.
With 24 laps to go, Harvick stole the lead from Larson and Joey Logano slipped by him as well for second.
The caution came out once again with 20 laps to go as Blaney made heavy contact with Larson while battling for third. Blaney made hard contact with the left rear of Larson car, in-turn cutting his own tire.
The result was a tire rub for Larson and a blown tire for Blaney. Blaney’s car headed straight into the outside wall, knocking him out of the race. Larson was able to repair the damage and continue on while only losing a handful of laps.
Under the yellow, several cars stayed out including Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman. Once again Byron took two tires on pit road, getting him out first ahead of Harvick followed by Kyle Busch.
On the restart, Truex Jr. snagged the lead from Logano, but the field wouldn’t make it back around for one lap.
Final Stage: Part Three – Absolute Chaos
A huge wreck with 14 to go put the race under a red flag. The cause came from Byron getting loose and collected several other cars as his car pile-drived the outside wall. As his car caught flames spinning across the track, he collected Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Chris Buescher, and Ty Dillon.
The race restarted with just nine laps to go. Truex Jr. held the lead with Logano, Jones, Hamlin, and Chase Elliott rounding out the top-5. Harvick and Kyle Busch followed in sixth and seventh, the first two cars with four fresh tires.
Off the restart, Harvick sailed from sixth to second in just one lap but Truex Jr. opened up a small gap.
Over the final laps, Harvick slowly reeled Truex Jr. in until he was within striking distance with under two laps to go.
As the pair reached the white flag for one to go, Harvick made the pass on Truex on the outside for the lead.
Over the final lap, Truex Jr. gave it everything he had but could never get back to Harvick’s bumper.
Harvick grabbed his fifth win of the season, one short of half the races run this year. Truex Jr. came home second, followed by Logano, Larson, and Hamlin for the top-5.
Harvick’s five wins this season, combined with Clint Bowyer’s one, bring’s Stewart Haas Racing (SHR) to six total wins already. With 12 races being completed so far this year, SHR has won an astounding half of them.
Harvick still sits third in the point standings, but after his win today he had opened up his playoff points lead to now seven. He has collected 24 already, trailed by Kyle Busch with 17 in second.
As the 2018 NASCAR season is now 1/3 complete, there’s been a clear dominating driver and team leading the way.
Next week NASCAR travels to Charlotte for the All-Star race. This season’s All-Star race is a four-stage battle with $1,000,000 on the line to the winning driver.
Featured image courtesy of motorsport.com/LAT Images
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