Bump-and-run helps Harvick get past Busch for victory at NHMS

  • Kevin Harvick (center) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday. BELOW: Harvick (4) chases down Kyle Busch (18) late during Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race. RICH MIYARA photos / NH Sports Photography

  • Kevin Harvick’s crew reacts to winning the NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick (4) chases down Kyle Busch (18) late during Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • Fans react to the start of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

  • NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick receives his prize for winning the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday in Loudon. RICH MIYARA / NH Sports Photography

For the Monitor
Published: 7/22/2018 11:31:00 PM

LOUDON – Kevin Harvick called it racing. Kyle Busch didn’t disagree.

Fair or foul, it was the move that made the difference in Sunday’s misty Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. A hard-charging Harvick nudged Busch in the final laps, allowing him to surge ahead and pull away for the victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his sixth of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series season and his third at the Loudon mile.

“I just didn’t know if I was going to get there at the end, and I felt that was my best opportunity to do what I had to do to win,” Harvick said. “Winning is important and you’ve got to take every opportunity you can. … Points are everything and getting a ‘W’ is what it’s all about.”

Things this season keep going right for Harvick, but Sunday appeared destined to change the narrative. Busch used a superb pit stop during a caution on lap 259 to take the lead, and an arguably better restart to begin the 263rd to speed away from Harvick and the rest of his challengers.

But Busch’s car, by his own admission, was faulty, and Harvick took advantage. By the 283rd lap he was two car lengths behind Busch, and he stalked his fellow heavyweight while closing the gap and looking for where on the track, and when, he could make his move.

With seven laps to go, he got tired of waiting. Harvick came up along Busch between turns 1 and 2 and nicked his back left corner, tapping him enough to cause him to wiggle to his right. That was all Harvick needed. He was instantly in the lead and never looked back, holding off Busch as well as Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott in third through fifth, respectively.

It was a risk, and Harvick knew it. Nothing will rile up a driver more than contact with a victory on the line. But he was running out of time, and he knew winning the race was going to require a gamble.

“Your goal is to not wreck him. Your goals is to move him out of the groove and get away far enough, because you know they’re going to be mad,” he said. “That was the moment I needed to make it happen.”

Even with laps remaining, Harvick knew he couldn’t wait for a better one.

“I knew he was thinking late, and I needed to do it when he wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “He’s that good. If you wait until two or three to go, the entries are going to get shallower.”

Despite the circumstances, and the combustible personalities involved, there were no post-race fireworks. Busch may have been the victim of hard racing, but he knows how often he’s been on the other side.

“I think he could have made the move work cleaner than that, but it’s all fair game when you’re racing,” he said. “How you race is how you get raced.”

Busch’s subdued reaction was understandable. From the start, he knew he didn’t have the car that Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Almirola had.

“We were way off. We were terrible today,” Busch said. “Those SHR cars were really fast. It was just a matter of time before they’d get to me and get by me.”

And yet, it almost didn’t matter. Busch was third behind Almirola and Harvick when the caution flag came out when Clint Bowyer hit the wall on lap 257, and during a pit stop two laps later, Busch’s team pulled off a perfect pit stop that, combined with Almirola’s own balky stop, suddenly had him in the lead.

“(Crew chief) Adam Stevens and the guys made some good calls on getting us better, better and better throughout the day,” Busch said. “My guys worked really, really hard all day long.”

It was heartbreak, however, for Almirola. While Busch aced the pit stop and then jumped ahead on the restart, Almirola first stumbled in the pits, then spun his tires on a disastrous restart that dropped him to sixth and dashed any hope for his first win both this season and at Loudon.

“(We) felt like it was the car to beat, for sure,” he said. “We came down pit road leading, went out third, lost control of the race. Then I spun my tires on the restart and didn’t even give myself a fighting chance.”

Two of the day’s most impressive drivers missed out on chances to battle for the lead late. Truex led for 83 straight laps from 49 to 131 and won the first stage, but the defending series champion couldn’t maintain the pace and faded in the second half, denying him his first career NHMS victory.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Kurt Busch as well. The polesitter led a race-high 94 laps and was running second behind Almirola when he and the rest of the leaders went in for a green-flag pit stop. Busch had to stop, however, when Ryan Blaney pulled out from the pit box behind Busch’s when he was about to go in, causing a two- or three-second delay that dropped Busch to seventh and pinned him back.

Busch ended up eighth, behind Ryan Newman and Blaney and ahead of Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson.

“Once in 1,000 years that’s going to happen,” Kurt Busch said. “We just shouldn’t have pitted on that lap. Blaney is a good kid. He wanted to let me go, but then I would have blocked him in. … That just turned into a total disaster.”

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