Kevin Harvick only led 14 laps of the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300, but he saved most of them for the end. On the strength of a great final kick, the No. 5 car picked up its second win of the 2014 Nationwide Series season on Friday night at the Kentucky Speedway:
Late in the race, it was clear Harvick had one of the strongest cars in the field. He admitted after the win that he may have been a bit hard on his pit crew, but it all worked out in the end, per NASCAR on ESPN:
"I kind of got into them pretty good," Harvick says of his pit crew, but says his car was best when it mattered. #NASCAR— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) June 28, 2014
Harvick's win was a bit fortuitous, but you take a win any way you can get it. Here's a look at the top 10 finishers from Friday's race, courtesy of NASCAR.com.
Here's a look at how Friday's race impacted the points standings, courtesy of NASCAR.com.
One of the biggest questions coming in was how the drivers would handle the switch from morning and afternoon practices to a night race. In a way, almost everything the pit crews learned from qualifying and practice rounds went right out the window. Cooler temperatures mean different track conditions.
Making the adjustment was likely troublesome for a few drivers, but after a few laps, they regained their bearings. The race wasn't plagued by drivers making early mistakes and getting into wrecks.
Friday night's race was the culmination of a whirlwind afternoon and evening for Brad Keselowski. He started out by winning the pole for the Nationwide race. A few hours later, he took home the pole for Saturday's Sprint Cup race.
There was no doubt he had the car to win, but one man can only do so much in one day. Winning two qualifying rounds and then a Nationwide race is a nearly impossible feat to accomplish.
Keselowski did his best, though. Nobody was more dominant through the first two-thirds of the race. He led 138 laps, 100 more than anyone else, but it was all for naught as a result of one mental mistake.
The turning point in the race came on the 149th lap. After running a perfect race, the one time he messed up, he paid for it in a big way.
Harvick was behind the No. 2 for the majority of the race, waiting for his opening. He got it when Keselowski was caught speeding down pit road, per the Nationwide official Twitter account:
Brad Keselowski was just penalized for speeding on pit road. He will have to serve a pass-through penalty. #NASCAR— NASCAR Nationwide (@NASCAR_NNS) June 28, 2014
The pole-sitter could only offer an apology to his pit crew for the mistake:
Keselowski apologizes to team saying he didn't realize he could speed with having first pit stop. Caution now out for debris in Turn 3.— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) June 28, 2014
After the dust settled, he fell to 17th place, which meant he would need a ton of help to regain his place atop the leaderboard.
With Keselowski serving the pass-through penalty, Harvick climbed into the lead:
NEW LEADER: Kevin Harvick at Lap 149. #JRElliottHERO300— NASCAR Nationwide (@NASCAR_NNS) June 28, 2014
His lead would be short-lived, though, as Kyle Busch stayed out during a caution on Lap 157, which allowed him to jump ahead of the pack once the green flag dropped on the 162nd lap:
Restart: Busch, Menard, Blaney, Harvick, Bayne, B.Scott, Gaughan, J.Buescher, Dylan, Dakoda, Cassill, Larson, Smith, Chase, Dillon, Sadler,— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) June 28, 2014
Drivers always gamble by skipping out on pit stops. The reward is that you can make up a ton of spots in a short amount of time. The risk is that your tires start wearing out and fuel may become a scarcity. For Busch, it was a case of the former, especially on the turns, per Joe Gibbs Racing:
“Where am I losing time?” - Busch “Off of the turns.” - spotter “Yeah, just waiting on it, tight. Got nothing for it.” - KB— Boris for JGR (@JoeGibbsRacing) June 28, 2014
A caution on Lap 175 after Dakoda Armstrong went into the wall allowed Busch a moment to breathe. But right after the restart, Harvick was back on his tail trying to move into the lead.
Busch had done a great job of holding off the No. 5 car for the ensuing 15 or so laps, but following a caution on Lap 192, the dam broke. Almost immediately after the restart, Harvick jumped into the lead, and Busch began falling back a bit, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
Kevin Harvick beats restart master Kyle Busch this time. And Keselowski now fighting for second. Four to go.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) June 28, 2014
Keselowski, who was on his preferred outside position on the restart, roared into second place, but closing the gap between him and Harvick over such a short time span was a bridge too far. The No. 22 car settled for second, while Busch finished in third.
All three drivers are in the field for Saturday's Quaker State 400, so they'll be looking to take the momentum they built tonight and carry it over into tomorrow's race.
Busch and Keselowski in particular will be looking for a checkered flag. With one win to their names, they've fulfilled what will likely be the minimum qualification in order to qualify for the final Chase for the Sprint Cup. A second victory will all but guarantee them a top-16 spot.