Kevin Harvick led the field to the green flag for the start of the Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday afternoon, and three and a half hours later he crossed the finish line over a second clear of Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon to clinch the chequered flag, having led for over half the race and for more than twice as long as anyone else managed in the 267-lap event.
Draw a straight line between those two moments and you might think this was a dull affair, with Harvick dominating throughout and little happening all day. That would not, however, be an entirely accurate picture.
"It was just a crazy day," was Jimmie Johnson's view. "There were weird restarts, wacky restarts, a lot of chaos there. Then caution after caution for who knows what."
The drivers had arrived at Kansas knowing that things might get a little interesting, thanks to a fast, slick track that was repaved just last year, and an innovative new tyre compound design from Goodyear designed to help make racing on the 1.5-mile speedway more interesting. It certainly did that, right from lap 1, when Danica Patrick found that her services were no longer required after she lost control of the #10 in turn 2, collecting the cars of David Reutimann and Cole Whitt in the process.
"All I can say is, I didn't try to do anything. I just found myself sideways in the middle of the corner and that was it," she said. "I just was looking forward to having a good day and it's over with within a matter of feet," she sighed, adding: "I'm really sorry. I'm really bummed."
Also involved in the incident was Kyle Busch, who had been forced to start at the back of the field on Sunday after a practice crash forced him into the backup car. His brother Kurt was in the same position, but the Furniture Row Racing #78 avoided the first lap accident which forced Kyle to dive low onto the apron leaving him concerned about splitter damage which needed to be checked out on pit road.
The race resumed on lap 10 and Harvick continued to lead through to the second caution on lap 43 for a tyre going down on Michael McDowell's car. Harvick won the race off pit road which saw everyone opt for two tyres, and took point once more at the restart on lap 48 followed by a trio of Hendrick cars consisting of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Eventually they wore down the leader and Harvick was passed first by Johnson and then Earnhardt before the next caution on lap 88 for debris in turn 3.
This was not good news for Harvick who had just made a pit stop under green, or for Johnson who was just inches from pit road when the caution came out and who as a consequence now found himself down in 17th position for the restart which saw Matt Kenseth edge past Earnhardt to take the lead. Harvick meanwhile was mired in in the pack, the dominating pace the #29 had shown while out in front for 80 of the first 82 laps now completely absent, leaving him fearing for the worst.
"In traffic, the car was tight," he said. "[The crew] kept me calm because I was starting to get a little wound up because I knew we had a real fast car out front. It was just a matter of getting there because track position was so important.