By GREG BEACHAM
The Associated Press
LAS VEGAS — From his dynamic opening laps to his comfortable cruise to the checkered flag, Kevin Harvick was the safest bet in Sin City this weekend.
Harvick’s air of inevitability increased with each lap around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, and the rest of the NASCAR Cup field must be a bit worried about how they’re going to catch up this year.
Harvick raced to his second straight NASCAR Cup win with a dominant performance in Vegas on Sunday, earning his 100th career win across the three national series.
“There was no catching that 4 (car),” second-place finisher Kyle Busch said. “He was on rails, and lights out.”
Harvick followed up his stellar performance last weekend in Atlanta with another victory in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. He led a track-record 214 of the 267 laps, won all three stages and capably held off Busch’s late hometown charge to win in Vegas for the second time in four years.
“These last two weeks, we’ve just hit on everything we needed to,” said Harvick, who cruised home 2.9 seconds ahead of Busch. “My (team has) done their homework on a number of things. Just really proud of everybody.”
Busch got close to his second career victory in his hometown with his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, but couldn’t overcome the dominant leader. Kyle Larson finished third after winning the Xfinity Series race on Saturday, while defending champion Martin Truex Jr. was in fourth and pole-sitter Ryan Blaney in fifth.
Harvick has already matched his Cup win total from last season in three races — and he’s headed to Phoenix, where he has won five times since 2012.
Harvick also took a moment to savor a milestone. Only Richard Petty, Kyle Busch and David Pearson have won more races across the three national circuits than Harvick, the 42-year-old Californian with plenty of good years left on his tires.
“It’s been a lot of years accumulated with a lot of great race teams and people and situations,” Harvick said. “When you tag that triple-digit number to it, it really lets you realize that you’ve been fortunate to accomplish a lot of things.”
Not many wins are more emphatic than Harvick’s 100th.
Harvick led 144 of the first 160 laps and comfortably won the first two stages. He was fourth out of the end-of-stage caution after Stage 2, with Joey Logano getting in front with an exceptional pit stop.
But Harvick reclaimed the lead off another restart with 73 laps to go after Kurt Busch wrecked along with Chase Elliott. Harvick emerged from his last pit stop with a three-second lead on Brad Keselowski, and Busch couldn’t catch up.
Here are more things to know about the race on the Strip:
DOING RECON: For the first time, NASCAR is returning to Vegas in the fall for a second race, which will also be the playoff opener. Teams used this trip to gather data and information for the return trip in September, although the temperature could easily be 50 degrees higher than the balmy 53 degrees at Sunday’s race. “The adjustments we made today are going to help in the fall,” Kyle Busch said. “(Although) I think the track is going to be a lot slower with the heat.”
KUBU CAN’T DO: Kurt Busch’s career-long victory drought in his hometown continues. Busch lost control and ran Elliott into the wall shortly after a restart early in the final stage. The crash necessitated a long caution for fluid cleanup. The 39-year-old Busch has never won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which was built while he grew up in town. Kurt Busch failed to win the Cup race in Vegas for the 17th time. He has started on the pole twice, but has only one top-five finish here despite calling it a top priority in his career.
WINNING BIG: Harvick was even more dominant in Vegas than Truex was last year. Truex led all three stages and 150 laps last year on his way to a victory that propelled him into his championship season.
THREE STRIKES: The car chiefs for Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain were ejected after their cars failed inspection three times during the pre-race checks. Johnson had to start at the back after his chief, Jesse Saunders, got the gate. Johnson also will have practice time taken away next week in Phoenix. The seven-time champion still rallied to finish 12th.
COMEBACK STORY: Josh Frankos, the tire-changer on Darrell Wallace Jr.’s Richard Petty Motorsports team, injured his hand while preparing for the Vegas race and was sent to a hospital on Sunday morning. Michael Hubert filled in for him on pit road. The injury couldn’t keep Frankos down, however: He returned to the track for the race.
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