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Kevin Harvick's bid for Kansas victory runs dry

May 11, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Stewart-Haas Racing's highest finisher led 119 laps en route to runner-up finish

RELATED: Full race results | Series standings

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Kevin Harvick had a dominant car for much of Saturday night's event at Kansas Speedway, but it was no match for an empty gas tank.

Harvick led a race-high 119 laps in the facility's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race under the lights, but it was time lost when he ran dry approaching the final, pivotal pit stop that may have cost him in the end. Harvick came out of the final set of green-flag stops in second place behind Jeff Gordon, and finished there when he wasn't able to overtake the four-time champion in the end.

"For me, I made a mistake at the end and felt like that's probably what cost us the chance to stay in front of the 24," Harvick said, referring to Gordon's car number. "But the 24 was good all night, and the 48 (car of Jimmie Johnson) was good when he was out front, and we got in the back of the pack and couldn't go anywhere. It came down to track position, and those guys executed a little bit better than I did."

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In many ways it came down to pit strategy, and the front-running teams using divergent tactics to try to one-up each other at a track where passing could prove difficult. Johnson forced his way into the mix by taking four tires on an earlier stop, allowing him to take just a splash of gas at the end. Gordon led just nine laps, but his team's strategy and quick work on a four-tire stop allowed him to recycle back into the lead when those final stops concluded with eight remaining.

And right behind him was Harvick, who in spots Saturday night had looked every bit as untouchable as he did in his victories this season at Phoenix and Darlington. Harvick led the opening 41 laps, but was trapped a lap down when he was on pit road as Marcos Ambrose spun. He took a wave-around and restarted 18th, and proceeded to go -- nowhere.

"Terrible," he called it over the radio, as his car slogged around in traffic. On a later pit stop, he was slowed by a dropped lug nut. "Right now is not going real good," he told crew chief Rodney Childers over the radio. "Hopefully, we can do something a little bit better."

Childers preached patience, and things turned around. Harvick gradually climbed back into the top 10, and once he returned to the front, he built a two-second lead and looked in danger of checking out again. Harvick held the lead for 30 laps, and was virtually unchallenged until he pulled off the track for his final stop with 29 laps remaining. Harvick said over the radio that the car had run dry, but later he blamed himself for not reacting to the situation as he should have. He said he was looking at the fuel-pressure gauge rather than the tachometer, and wound up going too slow.

"Even though it was out of gas, with these (electronic fuel injection) units it still runs, and I should have been paying attention to my pit-road speed lights and should have got off of pit road better," Harvick said. "I think, to win the race, I just needed to execute on pit road better the last time down."

He still seemed to have a shot at it. Harvick was roughly a second behind Gordon as the field recycled for the final time, but found a high groove that allowed him to mount a challenge at the same time the leader encountered lapped traffic. "He got right to my bumper," Gordon said. Up on the pit box, No. 24 crew chief Alan Gustafson knew Harvick wouldn't go down without a fight.

"From the last run what I had seen and looked at on the timing and the scoring, we were better than Kevin in clean air, but it's tough, always tough for the leader to catch traffic," Gustafson said. "… Kevin was going to go all he could do. Right at that point in time he's just going to do everything he can to beat us and get back to the flag. It made for a great race."

Gordon was eventually able to find his own line in the high groove and build enough separation to win by a tenth of a second. "I actually was able to pull away from him, and I was like, 'Wow, I wasn't expecting that,' " Gordon said. "He'd been so good all night."

Driving the same car he had used to win at Phoenix earlier in the season, it was no surprise. But with two race victories already to his name and a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup virtually assured, Harvick was sanguine about the first race this season where he led the most laps yet didn't end up celebrating in Victory Lane.

"I think we had a good night," he said. "You can't win them all."

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