By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. – On two straight laps late in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick nudged the No. 18 Toyota of race leader Kyle Busch with his front bumper.
Busch retained the lead. But Harvick took more aggressive action on Lap 295 of 301, tagging Busch’s car in the center of Turns 1 and 2. Busch slid up the track as Harvick powered the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford into the top spot.
Six laps later, Harvick took a checkered flag for a series-best sixth time this season. He won for the third time at the Magic Mile and the 43rd time in his career, 18th on the career list and one victory behind NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.
Harvick had no regrets about seizing the opportunity to take the win.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get there at the end, and I felt like that was best opportunity—do what I had to do to win,” said Harvick, who pulled away to win by 1.877 seconds. “I didn’t want to wreck him, but I didn’t want to waste a lot of time behind him.
“I knew I was running out of laps, and I didn’t know if I was going to get to him again. I felt like I needed to get him up out of the groove, so I got him up out of the groove.”
Thanks to a blistering stop by his pit crew, Busch grabbed the lead for a restart on Lap 263, after Clint Bowyer pounded the outside wall to bring out the seventh and final caution of the race. Controlling the restart, Busch pulled away to a lead of more than one second before Harvick began to track him down.
Busch acknowledged that he didn’t have the best car, particularly on the long runs.
“(Crew chief) Adam (Stevens) made some really good calls, some really good adjustments to keep trying to improve on it. Pit road was flawless, they gave us all those spots on pit road to get us out front and put us in that position and have a shot at the win.
“We controlled the restart, drove away by a little bit, but we weren’t the best car on the long run. The SHR cars were all really good today. They were fast. It was going to be hard to hold them off.”
About the contact on Lap 295, Busch was philosophical.
“I was kind of backing up—three, four, five corners in a row—and he had the faster car,” Busch said. “Harvick was using me up for about six corners in a row. I’m not sure he had to do it, but he did. It’s fine. How you race is how you get raced, so it’s fine.”
Aric Almirola, Harvick’s Stewart-Haas teammate, finished third after leading 42 laps. Almirola’s undoing was a pit stop under caution on Lap 258, when trouble with the left front tire dropped the No. 10 Ford from first to third for the Lap 263 restart.
Almirola then spun his tires on the restart and dropped to sixth before fighting his way back to third.
Martin Truex Jr. ran fourth after winning Stage 1, and Chase Elliott secured the fifth position after taking the green/checkered flag at the end of Stage 2. Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney, pole winner Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10.
Kyle Busch retained the series lead by 53 points over Harvick, but Harvick ran his Playoff point total to a series best 32 to Busch’s 30.
Christopher Bell holds off Brad Keselowski at Magic Mile
By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
LOUDON, N.H. – Christopher Bell held off hard-charging veteran Brad Keselowski over the final 18 laps to win Saturday’s Lakes Region 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In winning his second straight race in the series, Bell grabbed the top spot from Keselowski on a restart on Lap 183 of 200 and kept the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion behind him the rest of the way, though Keselowski got within three feet of the rear bumper of Bell’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with three laps left.
The difference? Bell had taken four new tires on his final pit stop on Lap 163. One lap later, crew chief Brian Wilson opted to change right-side tires only on Keselowski’s car to maintain track position.
However, when Jeremy Clements hit the sand-filled barrels at the entrance to pit road and caused the sixth caution on Lap 166, the field was bunched, and Wilson’s strategy was undermined. Keselowski held the lead through a restart on Lap 174 but lost it on Lap 183 after a caution for a wreck involving Garrett Smithley and Chad Finchum.
In his first Xfinity start at the Magic Mile, Bell picked up his third victory of the season and the fourth of his career—even though he couldn’t gauge his pit road speed because his tachometer was out of commission.
But strong guidance from spotter Tony Hirschman and fresh tires on all four corners of the car made up for the disadvantage.
“The better tires, they didn’t hurt us—that’s for sure,” Bell said. “(Crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) was able to put four on there and, man, we got going there that long green flag run, and I was getting really nervous because I didn’t have a tach, so I didn’t really know how I was going to get down pit road.
“But, luckily, I’ve got the best spotter on the roof, man, and Tony was able to kind of guide me and let me know, ‘Alright, I think you can pick it up a little bit,’ and then a couple times he told me to slow it down, so it worked out for us. We were able to take four tires there, and that was a big deal.”
The way Keselowski saw it, two fresh left-side tires on his No. 22 Team Penske Ford might well have changed the outcome.
“I think we would have won today on four, but that’s not the way it played out,” Keselowski said. “They (Bell’s team) did a good job and made the right call to put four tires on and kind of got us there, but it was all-in-all a good day.
“You kind of get mad about second and kind of don’t. You try to respect the fact that it was a great car today and a great effort for our team, but you know that the potential is there for more.”
Ryan Preece finished third in his fifth trip this season in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. John Hunter Nemechek ran fourth, tying his career-best in the series. Fifth-place finisher Matt Tifft posted his second top five of the season.
Brandon Jones, Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Cole Custer and Austin Dillon completed the top 10.
Notes: Bell won the first stage and Keselowski the second… Keselowski won the pole earlier in the day but started from the rear of the field after missing the drivers’ meeting. By the end of Stage 1, he had climbed to fifth place… Bell led 93 laps to Keselowski’s 72, indicative of the dominance of the two best cars in the field… Daniel Hemric, who finished 11th on Saturday, holds the serie