Kevin Harvick is heading to Kansas Speedway in Kansas City for the Hollywood Casino 400, the third and final race in the Round of 12 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, with a 22-point cushion over the ninth-place driver.
The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) scored two stage wins and a third-place finish to open the Round of 12 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and a 20th-place finish last weekend at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to open up his points advantage.
Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing won two weeks ago at Charlotte and Brad Keselowski of Team Penske followed suit last weekend at Talladega to secure their spots in the Round of 8. Now, 10 drivers are in contention for the final six positions with the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway as the stage for the final showdown. Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing holds a 29-point advantage over ninth place as the only non-secured driver ahead of Harvick. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Rickey Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray all sit below the cutoff line heading into the weekend.
Harvick has reason for optimism heading into Kansas.
The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion won at Kansas Speedway in October 2016, when he started 11th, led 74 laps and beat runner-up Carl Edwards to the finish line by 1.183 seconds and it came in a must-win situation during that year’s NASCAR playoffs. After Harvick suffered a mechanical failure the week before in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte that resulted in a 38th-place finish, he was 12th in the standings. He trailed Denny Hamlin by eight points for the final transfer position into the Round of 8 with Talladega looming the following week.
It was the second Cup Series win for Harvick. He also won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas in October 2013, when he started from the pole position, led 138 of 267 laps and beat current SHR teammate Kurt Busch to the finish line by 1.140 seconds to score his first Cup Series victory at the 1.5-mile oval.
The Bakersfield, California native also owns the Cup Series qualifying record at Kansas, which he set May 9, 2014 with a lap of 27.799 seconds at 194.658 in the second round of qualifying. It was Harvick’s second of three consecutive Cup Series poles at Kansas from October 2013 through October 2014.
He also has three runner-up finishes in six Cup Series starts at Kansas since joining SHR in February 2014.
Harvick knows that the best way to finish up front is to start up front, which he has done four times so far in 2017. He has scored four Cup Series pole awards – three coming on 1.5-mile racetracks. He scored his first of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a lap of 29.118 seconds at 190.398 mph. His second of the season came at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, when he made a lap at 27.217 seconds at 198.405 mph. His third came at Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600 with a lap of 27.918 seconds at 193.424 mph. The most recent came at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where he posted a lap of 27.669 seconds at 177.730 mph.
Harvick also has four poles at Kansas, which are tied with Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne for most all-time at the 1.5-mile track. Harvick and Johnson are the only two drivers to win consecutive poles at Kansas Speedway. Johnson completed the task in 2007 and 2008, while Harvick scored three in a row starting in the fall of 2013 followed by a sweep of 2014.
While Harvick has raced up front and scored five stage wins this year, he is still in search of his first Cup Series race win at a 1.5-mile track this season. However, he has scored the second-most points of any driver over the last 10 races on a 1.5-mile track by knocking down five top-five finishes, nine top-10s and four poles.
This weekend, Harvick and the No. 4 Jimmy John’s team hope to repeat their performance from last October and return to victory lane in pursuit of a second NASCAR Cup Series championship.