Kevin Harvick Captures First Sprint Cup Series Victory At Bristol Since 2005by Hunter Thomas August 21, 2016
BRISTOL, Tenn. – For the first time since 2005, Kevin Harvick drove atop the infield care center and celebrated a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway, after winning the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Sunday.
The 500-lap race was originally scheduled for Saturday night, but it was postponed to Sunday after multiple rain cells hit the track. After track drying were repeatedly soaked by Mother Nature, NASCAR decided to postpone the race with just 58 laps completed.
Kevin Harvick, who started the race in 24th, was out in front of the field by lap 286 on Sunday. The driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Busch Beer Chevrolet SS made the winning pass on Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin with just 71 laps to go. Throughout the day, Harvick led on four occasions for 128 laps en route to his second victory and 18th top-10 of the season.
“Yeah, just really from the drop of the green flag, the car was really fast,” Harvick said. “Our strong point was the top groove in (Turns) 3 and 4. Our weak point was being a little bit too free on restarts. But I think as the runs would go, our car would just keep turning, and I think that was really our advantage.
“For me, I was excited that you were able to use the bottom of the racetrack, and the lap cars had an option. You just didn’t get pinned up high. Really just want to applaud the racetrack for the effort that they made this weekend to really get that bottom groove working so that we had multiple grooves of racing, and I think today as a driver you had a lot of options to make your car work and maneuver through traffic and make up positions. We started 24th and pretty much drove through the field because of that.”
After Harvick took the checkered flag, he invited his team owner, Tony Stewart to celebrate on the frontstretch with him. The 2016 season is Stewart’s final full-time effort in the series, and Sunday was his last visit to Bristol Motor Speedway as a driver. Stewart finished 30th.
“Well, I will see it (Bristol Motor Speedway) in the spring,” Stewart said. “I will be back here. I just won’t wear a helmet when I come back here. It is cool. This place is so much fun. I told myself the last 10 laps we weren’t racing anybody, there wasn’t anybody around us, I said, just enjoy these last 10 and just savor the moment and think about it. So, that is what I did, I really thought about what I was doing those last 10 laps and kind of soaked it all in.”
The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race saw nine cautions between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The first caution for a multi-car accident took place on lap 309, when Kurt Busch sent Kyle Larson sliding sideways through Turn 4. Both cars were able to continue.
Kyle Busch led a race high of 256 laps, but as he was leading on lap 359, something in the rear end of the No. 18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota Camry broke in Turn 2. Busch was able to keep the car off the wall, but as he sat in the middle of the turn, Justin Allgaier, who was subbing for a sick Michael Annett, made heavy contact. Allgaier ricocheted off the nose of Busch’s car, shot up the track and into Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Following the accident, Busch wasn’t happy with Allgaier.
It’s a shame,” Kyle Busch said. “The last few times we’ve been here, we’ve had really fast M&M’s Toyota Camrys and we haven’t been able to finish. We’ve been having parts failures here, so something we’ve got to address and fix. I’m really tired of losing races here with parts falling apart, so they’ll hear about it on Tuesday. But the person that’s really the biggest moron out there is the spotter of the 46 and the driver of the 46 (Justin Allgaier). I’ve been wrecking for half a lap and they just come on through and clean us out. That’s stupid, so I don’t know – frustrating day.”
On lap 374, the caution came out for an 11-car pile-up. The chaos started when Kurt Busch got loose and crashed, while exiting Turn 4. Busch was leading at the time, when his car came out of the corner sideways. Joey Logano made slight contact, sending Busch’s No. 41 Monster Energy Chevrolet SS down the frontstretch. With nowhere to go, Brad Keselowski drove into the side of Busch’s car. Other drivers caught up in the chain reaction included Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Brian Scott, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson.
“I think I just missed the bottom groove by a few inches, got loose and the wreck was on,” Kurt Busch said. “The way that our car was restarting it felt comfortable, it felt good. That inside with the rosin and the VHT if you don’t hit it exactly right you lose a lot of time. I tried to make up for it and got loose. I feel really bad for the Monster Energy guys. We had a win in our sights and I just drove the car at 101 percent instead of that 99.”
The final caution of the day came out on lap 435, and it was for yet, another rain shower. The red flag was displayed for 6 minutes and 57 seconds. Once back to green, Kevin Harvick was able to hold off Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Denny Hamlin for his 33rd career victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
“Well, we knew we had the performance that we needed to have in the cars pretty much every week,” Harvick said. “And it’s been one of those deals where things have just not gone exactly right. But to have the win now and just try to get that momentum before we get into the Chase and get things rolling is really what we needed.”
Runner-up finisher, Stenhouse Jr. piloted a car that featured a scheme to honor Bryan Clauson, who recently lost his life due to injuries sustained in a USAC race. The second-place finish is Stenhouse Jr.’s best of the season, and the effort marks his third top-five of 2016.
“We really wanted to get this Bryan Clauson tribute car in victory lane,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “It just wasn’t meant to be today. We made our car a lot faster throughout the race and came from two laps down to get back on the lead lap. We missed some wrecks and gave it all we had. I thought we were matching the 4 car there lap for lap, but he got away from us and we had to restart sixth there on that last restart, but it was an honor to drive this car.
Denny Hamlin finished third, and Austin finished fourth. Rounding out the top-five was Chris Buescher, who is now Chase eligible since he has a win and sits 30th in the championship standings, 13 points ahead of David Ragan.
“That’s Chase eligibility in one race out of the four we had to do it,” Buescher said. “Now, we have to hold onto it. I’m really proud of this team. Our Love’s Ford Fusion had great speed this weekend. We’re looking forward to the next handful of races. We’ve got some really good tracks for us coming up. We knew Bristol would be a good one for us. It took us a day later to do it, but we got ourselves a top-5 and had a blast out here. That was an awesome run.”
Completing the top-10 on Sunday was pole sitter Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano.
With the win, Kevin Harvick now leads the championship standings by 27 points over Brad Keselowski. Kurt Busch is in third, 70 points back.
Next on the schedule for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, August 28. Coverage for the race will broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 2 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Wayne Thomas