By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service July 22, 2018 at 7:24 pm
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.
The Monster Energy Series will return at 2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday July 29 for the Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).