Harvick wins at Kansas; Johnson cuts Kenseth’s Chase lead to three points

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Kevin Harvick (pictured) boosted his Sprint Cup championship hopes in his final season with Richard Childress Racing, winning from the pole in today’s caution-marred Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Harvick was able to scoot away off a restart with 19 laps to go in order to earn his third win of the season, and move within 25 points of Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Matt Kenseth.

These guys just did a great job all weekend,” Harvick told The Associated Press. “To have a car fast enough for me to qualify on the pole says a lot about how fast this thing is.”

Kenseth was able to stay atop the standings but saw his edge over Jimmie Johnson drop to three points. Johnson came away with a sixth-place finish, while Kenseth was forced to rally for an 11th place result after being penalized mid-race for speeding on pit road.

The biggest loser in the Heartland was Kyle Busch, who once again suffered a tough day on the 1.5-mile oval outside Kansas City. On Lap 200, Busch got loose and hit the wall, inflicting major front-end damage to his car in the process.

As a result, he fell to fifth in the Chase at 35 points behind Kenseth, as both Harvick and Jeff Gordon (fourth, 32 points behind Kenseth) were able to leapfrog him in the title picture.

A first-lap incident involving Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick, David Reutimann and Cole Whitt seemed to set the tone for the race, which took place in cool conditions and had a record 15 cautions – including one on Lap 155 for a brush fire outside of Turn 1 that emerged near a spectator area. According to NASCAR, the fire was quickly put out and no injuries were reported.

Harvick took the checkered flag ahead of Kurt Busch, Gordon, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.