Yes, one of NASCAR’s “Big 3” won Sunday, but unlike the races this season where one of them has dominated, on Sunday only one was close, until the end that is.
Kevin Harvick used a bump and run on Kyle Busch with less than 7 laps to go to secure his series high sixth win of the season and the 43rd of his career.
The other driver among the Big 3, Martin Truex Jr. was the top among Harvick and Busch most of the race leading 83 laps to Kyle’s 36. But it was Harvick who led the least laps among the Big 3, 12, who took the checkered flag. Truex was third in the closing laps until a pass with les than five to go by Aric Almirola put Truex in fourth; Chase Elliott who led 23 laps was fifth.
The race ended near sunset after a two-hour rain delay; rain which looked at times to threaten to move the race until Monday.
Pole winner Kurt Busch led the most laps on the day 94 and looked to be the car to beat. He faded as the first stage came to a close as Truex won Stage 1 and Kurt Busch finished fifth.
Truex would keep the lead and it soon looked as though it would be another dominating day.
Chase Elliott decided otherwise.
Elliott slowly reeled in Truex and in heavy lapped traffic on lap 129 got by the reigning champion for the lead. The Hendrick Motorsports driver would go on to win his first stage of the season and the first stage win for Hendrick Motorsports in 2018.
“I was shocked, to be honest with you, that we ran even that good,” Elliott said. “Our whole NAPA group did a great job overnight. I really have no idea where that came from. I hope it wasn’t dumb luck. Hopefully we can keep it rolling because it’s really nice to be able to go up there and lead some laps. I know it wasn’t the right part of the race, but still, leading laps for us is big compared to what we’ve been doing.”
Aric Almirola would be the front runner for the Stewart-Haas Racing stable, taking the lead on lap 211. He seemed to be the car to beat from that point. Almirola would lead a total of 42 laps. Ironically, he would lose the lead when his teammate Clint Bowyer, running inside the top 10 at the time, smacked the wall on lap 256 bringing out the races seventh and final caution on lap 256.
“I hate that for my teammate,” Bowyer said. “It was his first win and he was dominating the race. I was trying to nurse it around. Something in the left-rear was broke and no more than Brett (Griffin, spotter) told me, ‘we’re having trouble, let’s just get off the track,’ and I was kind of thinking the same thing. Literally, as he was saying that and I’m thinking it, something broke on the right side and away it went. That sucks. I hate it for him.”
During the round of pit stops, Almirola was beat out of pit road by Kyle Busch who had a 13 second stop versus 14 for Almirola. On the restart Almirola spun his tires and dropped to seventh. With the laps closing down, all he could do was rally to his third place finish.
“You’d think I’d be happy,” Almirola said smiling. “That last caution there, we came down pit road leading, went out third, lost control of the race.
“Just frustrated on all parts that we didn’t execute the way we needed to try and win. “It’s frustrating. But everybody keeps telling me, You got to lose some before you win some. So we’ve lost some. Time to stop it, time to go to Victory Lane.”
As the laps wound down, Harvick slowly caught Busch and they were nose to tail with 10 laps to go. Harvick would hold station until lap 293 when he made a run on Busch in turn 4 followed by another bump in turn 1 on lap 294 that moved Busch out of the way and allowed Harvick to score the win.
With more rain reported to be falling in the final laps, Harvick said he was starting to get impatient.
“I just didn’t know if I was gonna get there at the end,” Harvick said. “I felt like that was my best opportunity to do what I had to do to win. I didn’t want to wreck him, but I didn’t want to waste a bunch of time behind him.”
For Busch, he seemed to harbor no ill will towards Harvick.
“I think that, you know, he had a fair game. Everybody has fair game on Kyle Busch – that’s for sure,” he said. “That’s how – that’s how they want to race, that’s how I’ll race back, but, you know, it was just a bump. I mean, it wasn’t a big deal. He didn’t wreck me or anything like that, so he did it early enough, but he did it way harder and pushed me out of the groove three lanes and it just takes you so long to recover here that it was just no possible way I could get back to him, so – and I was slower anyways. I was in the way, so no harm, no foul.”
Ryan Newman was sixth, Ryan Blaney seventh with Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top 10.
“We had a really good weekend in general,” Harvick said. “You look back at the fall race here last year, and we were absolutely horrible, embarrassed to say the least. From that race on, we really went to work and made our cars a lot better for the short tracks. I think that showed with Phoenix this year, then coming up here and running good. Richmond ran really good all night. But the whole company in general really worked hard making this a better short track car. Everybody did a great job today.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series returns to Pocono Raceway next Sunday for the Gander Outdoors 400. Live coverage will be on NBCSN starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.