KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kyle Larson was fastest in the final practice at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, though it was Kevin Harvick who confirmed his favorite status for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
Harvick, who won from the pole in last year’s Chase race, will again start on the pole after shattering his own Kansas track record in qualifying on Friday. Harvick had a quick lap of 189.607 in final practice, just off the pace set by Larson midway through Happy Hour.
“Our car was really good here last time,” said Harvick, who has started on the pole eight times this season. “Obviously, very similar to the things we did here in the first race.”
The points reset among the 12 drivers who advanced to the three-race “contender” phase of the Chase, which begins with Kansas and continues at Charlotte and Talladega. That means those who are still alive in NASCAR’s playoffs are hoping to get off to a good start this weekend.
Chase contenders Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch certainly appear to have some speed, rounding out the top five in practice. Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano were close behind.
Logano will start fourth on Sunday and Gordon fifth.
“To be in the top five is a great place to start, and that is higher than where we started when we ran this race in May,” said Gordon, who went on to win the first race of the season at Kansas. “The car has felt excellent all day long, so pretty happy.”
Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth weren’t nearly as pleased.
While their teammate Busch crept up the speed chart, they struggled to coax every mile per hour out of their Toyotas. Hamlin was 13th in practice and Kenseth was 25th.
“It’s just disappointing we can’t have any more speed out of our cars,” Hamlin said after Friday’s qualifying. “We’ll try as hard as we can to move up. We’re going to have to come from the tail end of the pack, but it’s a track position race so maybe we’ll play the strategy right and sneak a good finish out of here.”
Jimmie Johnson will come from deepest in the field on Sunday after spinning out in the first round of qualifying. He was just 21st on the speed chart Saturday.
KYLE BUSCH CLAIMS SIXTH SERIES WIN: In Kansas City, Kan., Kyle Busch raced his sixth NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the year Saturday, making a late pass on Kevin Harvick and holding on at Kansas Speedway.
Busch, also the winner last week at Dover, extended his series-record victory total to 69 with his first win of the year on a 1.5-mile track.
Harvick pulled away in his Chevrolet at the final restart with 40 laps to go, but Busch’s Toyota got around him with 20 to go and won by 0.767 second. Ryan Blaney was third in a Ford after starting on the outside of the front row.
Rookie Chase Elliott tightened his hold on the points lead with four races to go, finishing 10th after avoiding a collision with Jamie Dick shortly after the three-quarter mark in the 200-lap, 300-mile race. That padded his lead to 38 points.
Regan Smith, who came into the race 26 points behind JR Motorsports teammate Elliott, crashed in practice Saturday morning and finished 22nd in a backup car.
Paul Menard was fourth, followed by pole winner Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler, Trevor Bayne, Brian Scott and Elliott.
The race was marred by nine cautions for 42 total laps, and by the midpoint of the race only 22 drivers remained on the lead lap. With 50 laps remaining, that number had dropped to 11.
— and 12 drivers were out of the race.
The dropouts included rookie Chris Buescher, who started third and led 20 of the first 90 laps before a collision with Kyle Larson with 110 laps remaining. Larson’s car got loose and then drifted across the track into Buescher’s path, the collision peeling away the right-side panels of Buescher’s Ford. He went behind the wall for emergency repairs and was 49 laps down when he returned, finishing 28th and 51 laps down.
But the day was roughest on Smith.
Smith, who signed an extension Wednesday through 2015 with JR Motorsports, qualified 24th and then had to start at the rear after his crash in practice. He was well back in the pack when a swaybar arm fell of his car with just over 50 laps to go, forcing him behind the wall, and he finished seven laps down.