Persistence pays off for Kevin Harvick, passes Kyle Busch with 5 laps left to win Nationwide race at Kentucky

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Kevin Harvick tried at least three times to pass Kyle Busch on restarts or at points late in the race, and finally was able to do so with five laps remaining to win Friday night’s John R. Elliott Hero Campaign 300 Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

Every time Harvick tried to challenge Busch for the lead, the latter would come right back and pull back ahead.

But it appeared Busch started to have his tires fall off on the final restart and Harvick took advantage.

In doing so, Harvick prevented Busch from his goal of winning all three races – Camping World Trucks (which he won Thursday), Nationwide and Saturday’s Sprint Cup event at Kentucky this weekend.

Rallying was somewhat of a theme for Harvick throughout the race, who only led 14 of the event’s 200 scheduled laps on the 1.5-mile tri-oval. At one point, he fell back to 18th place and could also be heard yelling at his pit crew for mistakes on pit road that proved costly.

“Yeah, I kind of got into them (his pit crew) pretty good,” Harvick told ESPN in victory lane. “We made a lot of mistakes and it was just a frustrating place to race and a frustrating weekend. In the end, we had a good restart and they made the car better there at the end.”

It was Harvick’s second NNS race at Kentucky; he won the first NNS race there in 2001. It also was Harvick’s second Nationwide Series win this season.

Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski finished second, passing Busch with two laps to go for the runner-up spot.

Keselowski, who came into the race with two NNS wins and six top-10s in as many starts there (he also won the Sprint Cup race there in 2012), dominated much of the race, leading 138 of the first 148 laps.

“You have to give credit to Kevin and his team, they were really fast,” Keselowski said. “He was definitely a little bit faster at the end, so they deserve credit. Great night all around, qualifying on the pole and leading a lot of laps. We were just one spot short of where we wanted to finish.

“We were kind of on a different strategy there (than Busch) and it kind of worked out there where we had fresher tires (than Busch) at the end, and in the end we got a good restart, were able to get out in front and the car was a lot better.”

Busch faded to a third-place finish, followed by another strong performance by Paul Menard in fourth and Ryan Blaney finished fifth.

Last week’s winner on the road course at Road America, Brendan Gaughan, finished sixth, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammates Ty Dillon and Brian Scott, Kyle Larson was ninth and Elliott Sadler finished 10th.

There was also a shake-up in the NNS points standings. Elliott Sadler moved up from second into first place. He holds a four-point lead over Chase Elliott, who moved up from third to second, while former points leader Regan Smith, who was involved in a late-race wreck, fell to third-place. Smith now trails Sadler by eight points. Ty Dillon remained in fourth (29 points out) and Brian Scott remained in fifth in the standings, 47 points back.

The race was put under caution for debris on Lap 156, and with ensuing pit stops, Busch emerged as the race leader when the green flag dropped again on Lap 161.

Harvick was about to pass Busch heading onto Lap 170, but the caution came out after Ryan Reed got into the rear of Regan Smith, the points leader coming into the race (had a seven-point lead), sending Smith into the wall and then the infield.

It was the second consecutive race at Kentucky that has frustrated Smith. In last year’s race there, he suffered with a broken suspension mount that required lengthy repairs and left him with a disappointing 30th-place finish.

On the restart, Harvick again challenged for the lead but Busch held on. That lasted just one lap before yet another caution occurred when Dakoda Armstrong was involved in a solo spin.

Busch held off Harvick on the restart and appeared headed to the checkered flag unopposed when the caution fell again when Trevor Bayne and Chase Elliott made contact on Lap 193, sending Bayne into the wall, but suffered only minor damage to his right front fender.

The race resumed on Lap 196 and Busch had a rare bad restart – arguably his worst of the day – and Harvick jumped ahead, never to be challenged again the rest of the way.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.