BRISTOL, Tenn. – In a battle of titans, Kevin Harvick swapped the lead with Kyle Busch and held off the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion over an intense run to the finish to win Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
By doing so, Harvick picked up his ninth victory of the season, his second in the first round of the Playoffs and his third at Bristol.
The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford finished .310 seconds ahead of Busch, who remained frustrated in a winless season.
Harvick won for the 58th time in his Cup career, ninth-most all-time. Busch has been stuck on 56 wins since his title-winning triumph in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Bristol sold tickets to a limited number fans who were socially distanced throughout the grandstand. But there were enough voices there to make a significant din, and Harvick noticed.
“Man, I just want to say thank you to all the fans,” Harvick said after taking the checkered flag. “I was so jacked up when we started this race because of you guys and Bristol Motor Speedway.”
It took all of Harvick’s skill to hold off Busch during the final 82-lap green-flag run. Busch is the leader among active drivers with eight wins at Bristol.
“To beat Kyle Busch at Bristol, I kind of got myself in a little bit of a ringer there,” said Harvick, who already had secured a berth in the Round of 12 with his win at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in the playoff opener. “I hit a lapped car and got a hole in the right-front nose, but just kept fighting. We didn’t have anything else to lose.
“We were here to try to win a race. I know how much (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) really enjoys coming here and, hell, how can you not enjoy coming here with all this enthusiasm? Everybody is tired of being at home.”
Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones started in the rear of the field after multiple pre-race inspection failures, but Busch charged through the field to finish second in the first stage and won the second.
In the final run, Busch passed Harvick for the lead in traffic on Lap 459. Ten laps later, Harvick returned the favor when Busch was slowed behind the lapped car of Joey Logano.
Harvick led the rest of the way, though Busch tried every racing line available to try to catch the race winner.
“I just didn’t have enough there at the end,” said Busch who advanced to the Round of 12 on points, joining Richmond winner Brad Keselowski, Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Logano, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon. “The lapped cars were definitely a problem.
“There was just no room for me to do what I needed to do to get around him. Came up short — what can I say?”
Two drivers who didn’t make the playoffs — Jones and Tyler Reddick — ran third and fourth, followed by Almirola, Bowyer and Elliott.
Non-Playoff drivers Chris Buescher, Ryan Preece and Michael McDowell completed the top 10.
The Bristol Night Race was the cutoff event for the Round of 16, and the four drivers who began the event below the cut line — William Byron, Sunoco Rookie of the Year Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto — remained there and were eliminated from the playoffs.