– Defending NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick raced to his first victory, in the season's third race, Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Harvick has been inching toward Victory Lane since he began his title defense. He finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500, was second last week at Atlanta and, dating back to last season, has six consecutive top-two finishes. He also has won three of the last six races dating to last season.

Harvick led 142 of the 267 laps, and he beat Martin Truex Jr. to the finish despite a car a vibration that developed after his final pit stop.

"It got to be a handful there at the end," Harvick said. "For whatever reason, we got really, really loose the last run. Tires started vibrating and we were just kind of hanging on. Glad the race is over for our own good."

Harvick's victory gave him a near-certain berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Next is a stop at Phoenix, where Harvick has won four of the past five races.

Truex was second, giving him three top-eight finishes to open the season. He recorded only one top-five all of last year.

Ryan Newman, runner-up to Harvick in the championship finale, finished third and was followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolets swept of the top four spots.

The race had several small incidents, including one on Lap 194 when Carl Edwards squeezed Kasey Kahne into an outside wall. Kahne then drove down the track and seemed to hit Edwards, sending him into a spin. Edwards had to take his car to the garage. "Completely my fault," he said.

Jimmie Johnson, winner last week at Atlanta, was ruined by two different tire failures.