What a difference a week makes. Kevin Harvick took the lead from Matt Kenseth on a restart with less than 10 laps to go Sunday and held on to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“The car was pretty good on the restarts,” Harvick said. “Once we got clean air there at the end, it wound up being really good up front. I’m just really proud of our team. They did a great job.”
The 34th win of his career came a week after the 2014 champion struggled to a 20th place finish at Chicagoland that saw Harvick fall outside the cutoff to move to the next round of the Chase. Those fears were eliminated Sunday with Harvick’s third win of 2016; a win that locks him into the quarterfinal Round of 12 that starts after next week’s race at Dover. Last season Harvick faced the possibility of elimination at Dover, something he won’t be worrying about that this season.
“Oh, it’s definitely going to be nice,” Harvick said. “One of our main goals this year was to not stretch ourselves out so bad. I feel like the performance of the car and the things that we’re doing are good enough to be competitive, and we just need to not make mistakes and go from there.”
Much of the 300 laps Sunday belonged to Martin Truex Jr. who won at Chicagoland to secure his spot in the Round of 12 and led a race high 141 laps. Matt Kenseth would lead 105 laps, most in the second half of the race, but the driver who has won two of the last three races at New Hampshire, lost on the restart after the race’s sixth caution of the day and had to settle for second.
Kenseth was in a comfortable position in the closing laps. The races fifth caution, for a crash involving Trevor Bayne, on lap 284 tightened the field. Kenseth took a clear lead on the restart with 11 laps to go. Harvick restarted fourth but charged to second. A lap later the final caution flew when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. followed by Reed Sorenson spun exiting turn 2.
On the final restart, with 6 laps to go, Kenseth led into turn 1, but by turn 3, Harvick had overtaken him and grabbed the lead.
“I didn’t do a very good job,” Kenseth said. “I let Kevin (Harvick) lay back on me and NASCAR said something about the restart before that and I have no idea what I did wrong. I probably shouldn’t have had that in my mind so I made sure I got rolling early and I spun the tires a little bit and he got half a car length anticipating it and just did it perfect and beat me through one and two and cleared me. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have worried about what they (NASCAR) said and just got to turn one first.”
Harvick was able to stretch out his lead, as the only battle was for third and fourth.
“For me, it was just a smooth restart,” Harvick said. “I just didn’t want to spin the tires. I don’t know what happened to him, or if I just timed it right. It worked out good when we got to Turn 1.”
Kyle Busch won that battle and finished third, Brad Keselowski fourth, and Kurt Busch fifth. Both Keselowski and Kurt Busch had staged comebacks after falling outside top 15.
Pole sitter Carl Edwards was sixth, Martin Truex Jr. settled for seventh, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson rounding out the top 10.
The race was caution free until lap 124 necessitating pit strategies that had many of the Chase drivers struggling. Austin Dillon, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher were all lapped early and spent the day trying to rally. Logano rallied to 11th, Dillon, 16th while Buescher finished 30.
Other Chase drivers:, Chase Elliott finished 13th, Denny Hamlin had a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled that sent him to the back of the field late and left him in 15th. Jamie McMurray was 19th and Tony Stewart 23rd.
New Hampshire also marked the first race of NASCAR’s relaxed post inspection Laser Inspection Station standards; all 16 of the Chase cars passed.
The next race determines the 12 who will advance and the 4 who will be eliminated for the next round of the Chase. That race is the Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway next Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network starting at 2:00 p.m.