Harvick holds off Busch in Atlanta Nationwide race
Kevin Harvick scored his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the year on Saturday night, holding off a late run by Kyle Busch on the final lap to take the victory in the Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Harvick dominated the last stages of the race, leading all but two of the final 100 laps, beating out Joey Logano on a critical late pit stop to stay out in front and ultimately collect his 40th Nationwide Series victory.
Sam Hornish, Jr. came home third, followed by Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson.
Harvick’s victory on Saturday night was a redemption of sorts after losing out on the victory on the last lap in this same race one year ago following a controversial debris caution late in the race.
This time around, the cautions fell his way right when he needed them.
“That’s two – actually three – years in a row that we had a dominant car, and you think something’s going to go wrong, but we just kept digging, and these guys did a great job,” Harvick said. “We brought the same stuff back that we had last year and it worked again.”
Logano, Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, Regan Smith and Brian Scott rounded out the top ten.
Harvick led a race-high 132 of the scheduled 195 laps, first grabbing the lead from Busch on lap 60.
Once out in front, Harvick looked untouchable, opening up over a one-second lead over Logano, who despite cutting down a right-front tire and hitting the wall on lap 85 was still holding onto second place but not able to gain much ground.
Even with a dominant car, Harvick wasn’t about to sit back and cruise – he’d seen it all slip away before. And when Harvick started complaining of a loose wheel with 30 laps to go, it must have seemed like déjà vu all over again.
But Harvick caught a break when Jeff Green got turned into the outside wall with 13 laps to go, bringing the leaders to pit road for the final time.
On the pit stops, Logano and Harvick both took on four tires, but Harvick’s crew got him out first by less than three feet to keep him out in front for the restart with Logano running second on the outside, followed by Busch in third on the inside behind Harvick.
On the restart, Logano spun his tires, allowing Busch to power past on the inside and make an outside move on Harvick, pulling door to door with the leader before Harvick pulled ahead as the field came out of turn four.
Busch kept the pressure on and caught up to Harvick on the final lap, coming right to his bumper coming through turns one and two, but Busch went into the turn too hot and bobbled up the race track, just enough to allow Harvick some breathing room as he motored to the finish line by five car lengths over Busch.
Busch, who is still hunting for his first Atlanta Nationwide victory, fought an ill-handling race car all night and still managed a runner-up finish, but was angry at how Harvick raced him on the final lap.
“I had one run on him through (turns) one and two and he blocked me up to the fence, so I had to lift so I didn’t wreck. But it is what it is. It’s just racing I guess. That’s what they call it,” said Busch. “It was just too tight even to make any runs on the outside of Kevin (Harvick). We even made changes to free up our race car and it just wasn’t enough, you know? You live and you learn.”
Busch’s runner-up finish allowed his Joe Gibbs Racing team to close the gap on Logano’s no. 22 Penske team in the owners points championship hunt, cutting the lead from 16 to 11 points.
Hornish, Jr. increased his points lead but four points over Dillon to lead by ten points. Elliott Sadler, Smith and Allgaier held onto third through five in points, respectively.
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