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

Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s INDYCAR race was postponed until Monday

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Here’s what several drenched drivers had to say after Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was postponed until Monday morning (11:30 a.m. ET, LIVE on NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2018 pole winner): “It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us. We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much. There was too much puddling and pooling of water on every straightaway. Then the rivers started flowing, high-speed compressions in Turns 1 and 2, fast corner, 12 and 13, fast corner where the river starts to form. Just tough. I mean, look, we love racing in the rain. It’s got nothing to do with not wanting to run in the rain, not being able to do that. It’s that this type of track with this water level was too much to race today. We’ve run here in the rain before, but it intensified to the point where you’re starting to get in a situation where it’s going to take it out of the drivers’ hands. What happened with Will (Power), I don’t think is a driver error. I don’t know how anyone is going to drive hydroplaning on the front straightaway. I think you would have had that for the rest of the track, too. A tough situation. Thanks for the fans that came out and supported us. Hopefully we’ll get some people back tomorrow and we’ll get the show in and put on a great event.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
“Tough day so far. We had some problems with our radio and fuel alarm, but otherwise the car was alright. It was just too dangerous out there, we couldn’t see anything, so I think they made the right call. Hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s just a real shame for everyone on the Verizon Chevy team. The car was good and we were doing our best out there, but it was really hard to see anything in front of me. The conditions were just so bad. As soon as I got to the frontstraight, the car just came around, and I tried to keep it off the wall, but it was hydroplaning and there was nothing I could do. I feel bad for the team and for the fans in this weather. Just too bad. Hopefully our luck can turn around when we get to Indianapolis.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Very difficult day for us. In the race we were 13th at the time and we had some electrical issues, so that caused us to pit and we lost a lap. Not the ideal situation, but we don’t give up. There’s still a race tomorrow and we’re going to go for the most points. Anything can happen.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue today, no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in today, but that’s life. We will go racing tomorrow.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “I think definitely the right decision was made to red flag the race. It’s a very difficult position for everyone to be in. It’s never the result that you want, but safety is obviously a priority. I think everyone did a good job considering the conditions of looking out for each other. Not being able to see is not doing anybody any good. It is hard for everyone, but glad that we’re all in one piece and try again later.

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “As you could see on TV, if you couldn’t see the car, it was probably three times worse in the cockpit on the main straight or any straight. You had to completely trust the guys that they were accelerating. Never the less, I made good progress on the short stint and I made up a few positions.  The car was working well, but also was aquaplaning a lot, too, so I have to respect INDYCAR’s decision for everyone’s safety. Now we really need to concentrate on having a good car for tomorrow. I’m sorry for the fans that sat in rain all day, but thank them for their support.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “It was a short day. In the beginning the conditions were not that good, but afterwards the conditions started to improve. The race was stopped, then restarted, and I think the conditions were not too bad at that point. Unfortunately, it was red flagged again and then cancelled for the day. It would have been nice to get halfway, but we will come back and try again tomorrow.”