SPARTA, Ky. - A late-race pass on Kyle Busch on the final restart of the night awarded Kevin Harvick of JR Motorsports the win Friday night at Kentucky Speedway in the running of the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.
Harvick, though should thank Brad Keselowski for the trophy after Keselowski foiled late in the race with a speeding penalty on Lap 148, which put him behind and opened the door for a classic shoot-out between two former Nationwide Series champions.
"All in all, it was a very strange night," said Harvick, who noted that they weren't racing tonight three weeks ago. "In the beginning our car wasn't that bad, we needed some adjustments, had some things happen on some pit stops, so we pitted and put four tires on and everything kinda of fell our way. We were able to get a little bit of a tire advantage there at the end and Ernie (Cope, crew chief) made a really good adjustment to the race car that allowed us to really take off and run the best we had all night."
Winning his third pole of the season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series just an hour before race time, Keselowski led the 40-car starting field to the green flag and quickly drove away from outside pole sitter Busch.
While the top-10 shuffled near the rear of the deck, Keselowski continued to stretch his lead by Lap 20 and 10 laps later, the Team Penske driver extended his lead to 2.6 seconds.
13 laps later the caution flag fell for the first time of the night for debris on the backstretch. Under the yellow, the lead pack elected to come to pit road for tires, fuel and adjustments. Quick work by Richard Childress Racing surgedPaul Menard from third to first, leading Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Harvick off pit road. Busch entered second, but lost several positions after overshooting his pit stall.
Menard was able to hold the lead on the initial restart, but Keselowski throttled forward a lap later and reassumed control on Lap 48.
Twelve laps later, Keselowski had grown his lead to 1.7 seconds over Menard. He remained in control until Lap 83 when the caution flew for debris in Turn 4. Under the yellow, Ryan Sieg turned Jeremy Clements in Turn 1, emotions rolling over -- stemming from some alleged light contact exiting Turn 4 the lap before.
Meanwhile, the leaders pitted with teams utilizing varying strategies. A two-tire stop for Elliott Sadler and Regan Smithmoved them ahead of Keselowski, Road America winner Brendan Gaughan and Busch as they came off pit road.
Sadler would be overtaken by Smith on the restart, but his time at the front was short-lived as he would prove to be no match for a thundering Keselowski, who reclaimed first on Lap 90.
The Rochester Hills, Michigan native would continue to lead through the halfway point, until Kenseth crashed on Lap 102 bringing out the event's third caution. A majority of the leaders decided to stay out under the yellow, knowing that they could not make it to the finish.
On the restart, Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion continued his race dominance and by Lap 135 was able to maneuver a 1.9-second gap.
Green flag pit stop began on Lap 138 with Keselowski bringing his No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang to pit road on Lap 148, but after a solid stop, the Team Penske pilot would be tagged with a speeding ticket and have to serve a pass-thru penalty.
Meanwhile, Harvick took the lead when Keselowski pitted on Lap 149 with a 3.1 margin over Gaughan, until the caution waived on Lap 156 for debris.
Needing to make a pit stop, the leaders came to pit road with Harvick leading the parade off pit road, though not as the leader as Busch, Menard and Ryan Blaney remained on the racetrack, holding the top-three spots. Harvick found himself fourth for the impending restart.
With 39 Laps to go, Busch led the Nationwide train back to the green flag and despite some controlled chaos racing behind, Busch held a steady lead ahead of Harvick, but Keselowski, who took a waive-around under the prior yellow flag had roared from 17th to ninth in just five green flag laps and set his sights forward.
Keselowski needed a caution to close the gap and that came on Lap 168 when Ryan Reed and Smith made contact on the backstretch, which sent Smith’s No. 7 into the wall.
When racing resumed, Harvick attempted to take the lead from Busch, with Keselowski lurking from behind in fifth, butDakoda Armstrong wrecked on the backstretch on Lap 176, it stacked the field back together.
With 21 laps to go, racing resumed with intense side-by-side racing between Busch and Harvick, with Menard, Gaughan and Keselowski stalking from behind. With 16 Laps to go, Busch cleared Harvick and built a small cushion between him.
A late race caution on Lap 192 for an incident involving Trevor Bayne and Chase Elliott bunched the field back together for a five-lap shootout.
On the restart, Harvick powered using the low-line to pass Busch for the lead, with Keselowski attacking his prey and moving into second and setting his sights on the No. 5 Chevrolet of Harvick.
Keselowski though would run out of time and Harvick soared to his second NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season. It was the fifth win of the year for JR Motorsports (Chase Elliott, 2, Kevin Harvick, 2 and Regan Smith, 1).
JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. spoke about how proud he was of his Mooresville, North Carolina-based team.
"Kevin (Harvick) just had enough opportunity on the restart," Earnhardt said. "I was real surprised it worked out. We're having a lot of fun winning some races and it's definitely going to benefit our company in the long run and I can't thank Kevin enough for coming to be a part of it."
Keselowski took responsibility for the slip in the race, but was equally proud of the recovery.
"We had a great Discount Tire Ford and I definitely put us behind and was just one spot away from catching back up," offered Keselowski post-race. "You still have to give credit to Kevin at the end there. He drove by and took the lead, so he was really good."
As for Busch, who saw his second win of the weekend evaporate in the waning laps said he shouldn't be disappointed with third, but he was.
"We didn't have the car to beat so shouldn't be upset with a third, but there at the end we had the opportunity to win the race and through the middle part of the race I passed the 5 (Kevin Harvick) car and just didn't have enough on the final restarts unfortunately. Just not enough there to hold Kevin (Harvick) off. He just flat drove right by me on the restart."
Busch finished third with Menard fourth and Blaney in fifth. Richard Childress Racing claimed sixth through eight with Gaughan, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott with Kyle Larson and new points leader Sadler comprising the top-10.
Sadler grabbed the NASCAR Nationwide Series points lead exiting Kentucky. He has a slim four point gap over Elliott. Smith is third (-8), Dillon fourth (-29) and Scott fifth (-47).
Next up for the NASCAR Nationwide Series is their final restrictor plate race of the season from Daytona International Speedway on Independence Day (July 4) next Friday night for the running of the Subway Firecracker 250.
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