SPARTA, Ky. – With 10 laps to go, Kevin Harvick thought he had no chance of winning Friday night’s John R. Elliott Hero Campaign 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway.
Harvick radioed to his crew how tight his car was running second behind Kyle Busch. All it took for Harvick’s car to come alive, and his confidence to rise, was one last caution.
Busch had survived a spate of yellow flags in the final 35 laps, but the final restart was too much for his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota. Harvick sped by Busch and never looked back en route to his second Nationwide Series win of the season.
Harvick’s victory marks the fifth triumph of the season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports operation, the most wins the team has ever had in a single year since its inception in 2006.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Harvick said. “In the end, we had a good restart and that made the car better at the end. This is a lot of fun.”
Harvick’s No. 5 Kroger Chevy had fresher tires than Busch for the final run, which helped his cause. So did polesitter Brad Keselowski’s pit-road speeding penalty, which ruined his chances of victory.
Keselowski rebounded to second after leading a race-high 138 laps. Busch finished third, followed by Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney.
“It hurt us a little bit,” Keselowski said of the penalty.
A late-race crash hurt points leader Regan Smith even more. Smith’s No. 7 Chevy, one of three JRM cars in the race along with Harvick and Chase Elliott, drifted up the track and made contact with Ryan Reed’s No. 16 Ford with less than 40 laps left.
Smith spun into the outside wall, damaged the side of his car and limped to a 28th-place finish. Smith said Reed drove him in the wall to cause the accident.
It wasn’t the last conflict for a JRM driver. As Harvick was battling for the win, Elliott drifted up the track and hit Trevor Bayne with less than 10 laps to go, sending Bayne’s No. 6 Ford into the wall. Bayne finished 15th. The ensuing restart with five laps to go was what Harvick needed to erase the gap to Busch.
Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, Brian Scott, Kyle Larson and new points leader Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10.