FORT WORTH, Texas – The recent on-track rivalry between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick blossomed into a head-to-head showdown Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, with Busch prevailing for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the year.
After finishing as the runner-up to Harvick at both Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California’s Auto Club Raceway in the month of March, Busch finally turned the tables with a dominant performance in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. He led a race-high 116 laps, including the final 30.
The end result was Busch’s 44th Cup Series victory and third at Texas.
Racing in the final stage kicked off on lap 178 of 334, with Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones jumping out to the top spot before a multi-car accident back in the pack saw Denny Hamlin spin in the middle of turn three and collect six other cars, including Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski.
That drew an 11-minute red flag for cleanup, with Jones jumping back out to a big lead when the green flag waved again.
Jones continued to lead until hitting pit road for service with 103 to go, amid a full-field cycle of green-flag pit stops that was interrupted when Paul Menard lost a right-front tire and hit the wall on the backstretch to bring out a caution with 100 laps left.
At that point, Harvick found himself back on the lead lap by staying out longer than anyone else, after an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel at lap 135 dropped him a lap down to the leaders and left his Stewart-Haas Racing team playing from behind for much of the day.
However, Harvick endured a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire during the ensuing round of stops, falling to the end of the longest line while Jones and Busch led the field back to green with 94 laps left.
Busch reclaimed command from Jones at that point, but another caution nine laps later split the field as Busch and Jones led a group of four drivers who stayed out on older tires, while the rest of the frontrunners pitted for fresh rubber.
Old tires were no problem for Busch, though, as he powered away from a charging McMurray to a big lead, while Harvick methodically began picking off cars one by one after restarting in 10th.
In just 14 laps, Harvick had cracked the top five. It took him just eight more circuits to work his way up to and pass McMurray for second, but at that juncture he was 4.1 seconds adrift of Busch for the race lead.
Undeterred, Harvick began clicking off fast lap after fast lap. He trimmed his deficit to Busch down to 2.5 seconds in just five circuits and by the time the duo hit pit road for their final round of stops, Harvick was less than a second and a half behind Busch.
Busch beat Harvick off pit road and held him at bay, while up front Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and Darrell Wallace Jr. all stayed out in hopes of catching a caution and pinning several of the faster cars they were battling against a lap down.
For Stenhouse and Wallace, that lucky break came with 31 to go, when Newman lost a right-front tire and drilled the outside wall in turn one, leaving only five cars on the lead lap at that point and cycling Busch and Harvick back to the front row for the final restart of the day.