Kevin Harvick outsmarts Kyle Busch, earns third career NNS win at Chicagoland Speedway

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JOLIET, Ill. – What looked like yet another almost certain Kyle Busch win on Saturday literally went up in smoke, as Kevin Harvick rallied to earn his third career Nationwide Series victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

It was a fitting win for Harvick, as the race was sponsored by one of his primary sponsors, the Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast 300.

“To win the Freaky Fast 300 with all the Jimmy John’s people that were here is pretty cool,” said Harvick, who led 43 laps, including the last 39 of the race.

It was the fifth time overall that Harvick has won at Chicagoland Speedway in his career, having also captured the first two Sprint Cup races held at the 1.5-mile track in suburban Chicago.

It was Harvick’s 44th career win in the Nationwide Series, his fourth win and 13th top-10 NNS finish this season and the ninth overall win for JR Motorsports in the NNS this season.

“Having (crew chief Ernie Cope) and Kevin as part of the fold, they’ve won a lot of races this year and have helped the speed on the cars,” team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “They’re a big part of the reason why the program has been able to make that big step. … Kevin has three more races this year and he’s chomping at the bit to get three more wins.”

Kyle Busch dominated the first three-quarters of the race, leading 141 laps. But when the yellow caution flag came out on Lap 153 due to Jeremy Clements’ engine failure, Busch opted to go with four tires vs. two by Harvick, and dropped from first to 16th by the time the race restarted on Lap 160. Harvick, meanwhile, regained the lead one lap after the race restarted and never looked back, with a 2.108-second margin of victory.

“We were either going to stay out or get two (tires),” Cope said. “We were going to make the 54 (Busch) come get us.”

Added Busch, “I had a really fast car and we knew we had to come down and get tires, but obviously four was the wrong call and put us behind. I fought my butt off to try to get back, but the best I could do was third.”

Kyle Larson finished second, while Ryan Blaney was fourth and Trevor Bayne was fifth.

Elliott Sadler was sixth, followed by Ty Dillon, Regan Smith, polesitter Brian Scott and points leader Chase Elliott.

Elliott now leads Smith in the NNS standings by 18 points. Dillon is in third-place, 40 points back, followed by Sadler (-51) and Scott (-56).

Getting back to the rest of the finishing field in Saturday’s race, Paul Menard finished 11th, followed by Chris Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, Aric Almirola, Daniel Suarez, Landon Cassill, Dylan Kwasniewski, James Buescher, Ross Chastain and Mike Bliss.

Ryan Sieg was 21st, followed by Dakoda Armstrong, Brennan Newberry, Ryan Reed, J.J. Yeley, Eric McClure, Matt Dibenedetto, Will Kimmel, Cody Ware and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Wrapping up the final 10 finishers were Kevin Swindell, Denny Hamlin, Jeremy Clements, Tanner Berryhill, Joey Gase, Derrike Cope, Josh Reaume, Martin Roy, Ryan Ellis and Blake Koch.

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds