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.
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