It took nearly 24 hours, but Kevin Harvick was finally able to put a complete race together. After coming up short on several occasions in 2016, Harvick took control late in the rain delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday and went onto score his first win in 18 races the last coming at Phoenix in March.
“We should have won a lot of races this year but we just had things not go our way.,” Harvick said. “We made mistakes, or whatever the case may be. But, to get back into Victory Lane here at Bristol feels really good. We’ve had some good cars here over the last few years.”
Harvick had a terrible qualifying session Friday, started 24th, and wasn’t talked about among the contenders heading into the race. But by lap 168 Harvick was fourth, second by lap 230, and grabbed the lead for the first time on lap 286. He would go on to lead 128 laps taking the lead for the final time on lap 430.
It was the 33rd career win for Harvick, his second at Bristol and the first win at the half mile for his Stewart-Haas Racing team.
“We knew we had the performance that we needed to have in the cars pretty much every week,” Harvick said. “And it’s been one of those deals where things have just not gone exactly right. But to have the win now and just try to get that momentum before we get into the Chase and get things rolling is really what we needed.”
The race actually started Saturday night, although delayed over an hour due to rain. A total of 48 laps were run Saturday night before rain returned and NASCAR eventually had to postpone the race to Sunday. The 1:00 p.m. start on Sunday was also delayed for rain and the race finally got started three and a half hours later. Rain again delayed the event with only 67 laps to go, however the precipitation was light and the red flag lasted just under seven minutes.
Kyle Busch was the class of the field, and the biggest rival to Harvick, early on. Busch led a race high 256 laps but an issue with the rear end on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on lap 348 allowed Harvick to slip by. On lap 358, Busch spun from second place when the rear end finally broke; Justin Allgaier was unable to avoid the car of Busch, hit it, shot up the track and made contract with Martin Truex Jr.; Kyle Larson just behind also hit Truex and suffered damage. Both had been inside the top five at the time.
“ It’s a shame,” Busch said. “The last few times we’ve been here, we’ve had really fast M&M’s Toyota Camrys and we haven’t been able to finish. We’ve been having parts failures here, so something we’ve got to address and fix. I’m really tired of losing races here with parts falling apart, so they’ll hear about it on Tuesday.”
“But the person that’s really the biggest moron out there is the spotter of the 46 and the driver of the 46 (Allgaier). I’ve been wrecking for half a lap and they just come on through and clean us out. That’s stupid, so I don’t know – frustrating day.”
Another crash, this one involving ten cars, erupted at the front of the field just after a restart on lap 373. Kurt Busch and Joey Logano had stayed out while the leaders pitted. Busch and Logano were dueling for the lead when Busch spun. He collected Brad Keselowski. Behind them several cars sustained damage including Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Larson for a second time, and Brian Scott. Kurt joined his brother in the garage with a DNF as did Kenseth and Blaney. Kurt took responsibility for the accident.
“I think I just missed the bottom groove by a few inches, got loose and the wreck was on,” he said. “The way that our car was restarting it felt comfortable, it felt good. That inside with the rosin and the VHT if you don’t hit it exactly right you lose a lot of time. I tried to make up for it and got loose. I feel really bad for the Monster Energy guys. We had a win in our sights and I just drove the car at 101 percent instead of that 99.”
The melee opened the door for Harvick and several other drivers. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. avoided the carnage and came from two laps down thanks to a pit road speeding penalty to finish a career best second. Denny Hamlin had his series leading eighth pit road speeding penalty, and a loose wheel. He too overcame a two lap deficit to finish third. Austin Dillon found himself in contention late, nearly grabbing the lead on a late restart but settling for a career best fourth place finish. Chris Buescher who won the weather shortened race at Pocono turned his career best start of 12th into a fifth place finish and moved up into the top 30 in points securing himself a spot in this year’s Chase.
“I know we had to get there,” Buescher said. “That’s Chase eligibility in one race out of the four we had to do it. Now, we have to hold onto it.”
Polesitter Carl Edwards led 31 laps, lost ground late but railed to finish sixth. Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10. The full results can be found here.
Jeff Gordon in what is most likely his last race substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th. Tony Stewart in his final Bristol race suffered mechanical issues that sent him to the garage for a time. He returned to finish 30th and celebrated with his winning driver with a duel burnout on the frontstretch after the race was over.
“The funny part is,” Stewart said. “He (Harvick) got out of his car, got the flag and then he goes ‘get in my car and go to Victory Lane with me.’ I went what? He goes ‘yeah, just leave yours here.’ I’m like I just can’t just leave my car there, but that was cool.
“I’m happy for these guys,” he added. “This is a hard place to win at. There are so many things that can go wrong. All it takes is one thing. I mean we had a wheel that was loose and that messed our whole day up. That was cool sharing that moment with him though.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Michigan International Speedway next Sunday for the Pure Michigan 400. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network at 2:00 p.m. ET.