Joey Logano took the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Lap 122, and held it at the halfway point of tonight’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Ominous skies and lightning around the 1.5-mile oval caused NASCAR to issue a brief delay to the start for threatening weather, but the threat ultimately passed and the race got underway.
Pole sitter Kevin Harvick proceeded to assert control of the race almost immediately, and started to lap the backmarkers shortly after Lap 10 of the 267-lap race.
He held the point going into the night’s first cycle of pit stops, in which he went in for service on Lap 43. However, four laps later, the caution came out when Kansas native Clint Bowyer got loose off of Turn 2 and spun.
Bowyer went into the path of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Blaney (who is making his Sprint Cup debut tonight), but both evaded the wayward Toyota, which came to a stop on the backstretch without hitting anything.
Brad Keselowski was the leader, but in a strange event, he was the only car on the lead lap when the caution was triggered. That meant Harvick, even though he was in second position, received the “lucky dog” free pass.
After much of the field took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap, Keselowski and Harvick battled for P1 on the restart at Lap 52. But Harvick made sure the fight was a quick one as he re-claimed the position.
A short time later on Lap 60, David Ragan got loose and spun off of Turn 4. Ryan Truex hit him and then slammed Landon Cassill on the inside, leaving all of them with significant damage.
Subsequent pit stops under yellow saw many take advantage of the chance to pit, but Harvick and Keselowski chose to stay out and lead the field to the restart at Lap 67.
Another spin, this time involving Denny Hamlin, brought out the yellow again at Lap 71, but Harvick again pulled away from the field after the green came back.
Jeff Gordon then appeared to be homing in on Harvick after starting 13th before he stopped on schedule at Lap 101 to begin the next cycle of green stops. Two laps later, Harvick came in for service at Lap 103.
On Lap 110, Marcos Ambrose lost control off of Turn 4 and went for a spin in the infield grass but managed to escape with little to no damage. Harvick and several of the leaders that had already pitted were caught out by the spin, but since Harvick was the top driver one lap down, he again got the free pass.
The ensuing stops shook up the running order a bit, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. beating everyone out of the pits thanks to a two-tire stop. However, the race was kept under yellow for an extended period when the outside lights along the Kansas backstretch lost power and went out.
After polling the drivers, NASCAR determined that the backstretch was still bright enough to safely race thanks to the inside lights, and Earnhardt led Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Logano, and Jimmie Johnson to the restart at Lap 119, while Harvick took the green in 17th place.
On Lap 122, Logano went to the inside of Earnhardt on the tri-oval and completed the pass for the lead in Turn 1. At halfway, Logano held a lead of about one second on Kahne, who took second from Earnhardt as the stint continued. Stewart was in fourth, and Jamie McMurray was in fifth.