LOUDON, N.H. — For much of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it looked like it would be a Toyota Racing driver carrying the checkers at the finish.
However, a late race restart changed things drastically.
Kevin Harvick restarted second with just six laps remaining and had the bottom groove while leader Matt Kenseth elected the top lane for the green.
And that was all Harvick needed.
He wheeled the ditech No. 4 entry to the bottom groove in turn one, and was even with Kenseth off turn two — eventually driving by him on the entry to turn three and pulling away.
Harvick coasted around for the final five laps and advanced himself into the Round of 12 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. The victory was Harvick’s second career at Loudon and his third of the 2016 season.
“My car was pretty good on the restarts and once we got out in the clean air there at the end it was really good out front,” Harvick said. “I’m really proud of our whole team.”
Harvick started 19th on Sunday, but worked his way quickly inside the top-10 and was riding around just inside the top-five for much of the second half of the race. He elected to stay out when others pitted under a caution with 36 laps to go remaining and it ended up being the winning move. On the final restart, he was even with Kenseth when he needed to be — going into turn one.
“For me, it was just a smooth restart, I didn’t wanna spin the tires,” Harvick said. “It all worked out good when we got to turn one. Last week was just a game of inches, we wound up getting a lap down and wound up not where we needed to be at the end of the day. I feel like the performance of the car is good enough to be competitive, we need to just not make mistakes.”
Kenseth ended up second — but after leading 105 laps — he was clearly a little bit disappointed. The Dollar General Toyota was strong all day, but it wasn’t enough to capture the trophy and Kenseth says his final restart mistake cost him the shot.
“We were pretty good today, we just didn’t get the last adjustment,” Kenseth said. “The last restart was my fault, I let Kevin lay back on me. I should have known better. I should have went really late in the zone. I spun the tires and I got beat into turn one. I wasn’t worry about Martin (Truex Jr.) crashing me or Kevin crashing me. I knew they were both going to race me hard, I felt better about the last restart and it ended up being my worst one of the day.”
Kyle Busch looked to be in route to the victory in the final stages since he had fresher tires than all of the cars in front of him with 20 laps to go and he was sitting inside the top-five. However, the final few restarts saw Busch in the wrong lane and he was only able to muster a third place finish out of a day that he wished would have more.
“There were a couple of cautions there that hurt us,” Busch said. “In the spring when we were here we struggled on the restarts but today we restarted on the bottom and we were able to hold our position. I just wish we would have had a restart on the top.”
Brad Keselowski came from a lap down in the second half of the race and charged all the way to the front of the field to finish in fourth. “It was a dog fight, but my guys are fighters,” Keselowski said. “They really executed strong there at the end to pit tires on. We caught some breaks, getting the right lines on restarts is always helpful. It was an uneventful, smooth day.”
Kurt Busch rounded out a Chase drivers sweep of the top-five behind the wheel of his No. 41 Monster Energy Chevrolet. Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson rounded out the balance of the top-10. Kahne was the only non-Chase driver to finish inside the top-10.
Truex Jr., who led 141 laps, which is virtually half the race, was clearly frustrated with his seventh place result.
“We just lost the handle the last couple of restarts,” Truex Jr. said. I was just chattering all four tires there at the end. We’ve come a long way at this race track, I wish we would have finished better today. The last few restarts were not good at all for us.”
Going into the third and final race of the Round of 16 next weekend at Dover, Jamie McMurray is the first driver not set to advance to the Round of 12. McMurray trails teammate Kyle Larson by five points, while Austin Dillon also trails Larson by five. Tony Stewart, in his final season, trails by 11 points. Chris Buescher, the cinderella story of 2016, trails by 30 markers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 2 for the first elimination race of the Chase, the Citizen Soldier 400.