SPARTA, Ky. — A late-race pass on Kyle Busch on the final restart of the night awarded Kevin Harvick of JR Motorsports the win Friday night at Kentucky Speedway in the running of the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.
Harvick should thank Brad Keselowski for the trophy after Keselowski foiled late in the race with a speeding penalty on Lap 148, which put him behind and opened the door for a classic shoot-out between two former Nationwide Series champions.
“All in all, it was a very strange night,” said Harvick, who noted that they weren’t racing tonight three weeks ago. “In the beginning our car wasn’t that bad, we needed some adjustments, had some things happen on some pit stops, so we pitted and put four tires on and everything kinda of fell our way. We were able to get a little bit of a tire advantage there at the end and Ernie (Cope, crew chief) made a really good adjustment to the race car that allowed us to really take off and run the best we had all night.”
Winning his third pole of the season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series just an hour before race time, Brad Keselowski led the 40-car starting field to the green flag and quickly walked away from outside pole sitter Kyle Busch.
While the top-10 shuffled near the rear of the deck, Keselowski continued to stretch his lead by Lap 20 and 10 laps later, the Team Penske driver extended his lead to 2.6 seconds.
Thirteen laps later the caution flag fell for the first time of the night for debris on the backstretch. Under the yellow, the lead pack elected to come to pit road for tires, fuel and adjustments. Quick work by Richard Childress Racing surged Paul Menard from third to first, leading Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick off pit road. Kyle Busch entered second, but lost several positions after overshooting his pit stall.
Menard was able to hold the lead on the initial restart, but Keselowski throttled forward a lap later and reassumed control on Lap 48.
Twelve laps later, Keselowski had grown his lead to 1.7 seconds over Menard. He remained in control until Lap 83 when the caution flew for debris in Turn 4. Meanwhile, the leaders pitted with teams utilizing varying strategies. A two-tire stop for Elliott Sadler and Regan Smith moved them ahead of Keselowski, Road America winner Brendan Gaughan and Kyle Busch as they came off pit road.
Sadler would be overtaken by Smith on the restart, but his time at the front was short-lived as he would prove to be no match for a thundering Keselowski, who reclaimed first on Lap 90.
The Rochester Hills, Mich., native would continue to lead through the halfway point, until Matt Kenseth crashed on Lap 102 bringing out the event’s third caution. A majority of the leaders decided to stay out under the yellow, knowing that they could not make it to the finish.
On the restart, Keselowski continued his race dominance and by Lap 135 was able to maneuver a 1.9-second gap.
Green flag pit stop began on Lap 138 with Keselowski bringing his No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang to pit road on Lap 148, but after a solid stop, the Team Penske pilot would be tagged with a speeding ticket and have to serve a pass-thru penalty.
Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick took the lead when Keselowski pitted on Lap 149 with a 3.1 margin over Gaughan, until the caution waived on Lap 156 for debris.
Needing to make a pit stop, the leaders came to pit road with Harvick leading the parade off pit road, though not as the leader as Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney remained on the racetrack, holding the top-three spots. Harvick found himself fourth for the impending restart.
With 39 Laps to go, Busch led the Nationwide train back to the green flag and despite some controlled chaos racing behind, Busch held a steady lead ahead of Harvick, but Keselowski, who took a waive-around under the prior yellow flag had roared from 17th to ninth in just five green flag laps and set his sights forward.
Keselowski needed a caution to close the gap and that came on Lap 168 when Ryan Reed and Regan Smith made contact on the backstretch, which sent Smith’s No. 7 into the wall.
When racing resumed, Harvick attempted to take the lead from Busch, with Keselowski lurking from behind in fifth, but Dakoda Armstrong wrecked on the backstretch on Lap 176, it stacked the field back together.
With 21 laps to go, racing resumed with intense side-by-side racing between Busch and Harvick, with Menard, Gaughan and Keselowski stalking from behind. With 16 laps to go, Busch cleared Harvick and built a small cushion between him.
A late race caution on Lap 192 for an incident involving Trevor Bayne and Chase Elliott bunched the field back together for a five-lap shootout.
On the restart, Harvick powered using the low-line to pass Busch for the lead, with Keselowski attacking his prey and moving into second and setting his sights on the No. 5 Chevrolet of Harvick.
Harvick soared to his second NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season. It was the fifth win of the year for JR Motorsports (Chase Elliott, 2, Kevin Harvick, 2 and Regan Smith, 1).
Kyle Busch finished third with Paul Menard fourth and Team Penske Racing teammate Ryan Blaney in fifth. Richard Childress Racing claimed sixth through eight with Gaughan, Ty Dillon and Brian Scott with Larson and new points leader Elliott Sadler comprising the top-10.
Elliott Sadler grabbed the NASCAR Nationwide Series points lead exiting Kentucky. He has a slim four point gap over Chase Elliott. Regan Smith is third (-8), Ty Dillon fourth (-29) and Brian Scott fifth (-47).
Next up for the NASCAR Nationwide Series is their final restrictor plate race of the season from Daytona (Fla.) Speedway on Independence Day (July 4) for the running of the Subway Firecracker 250.