Just when it looks like Kevin Harvick has been taken out of the game, he storms back with a vengeance.
Harvick earned his second Nationwide Series win of the season on Friday night at Kentucky Speedway in the John R. Elliott Hero Campaign 300. After what he said were numerous mistakes on pit road by the team, the No. 5 came alive late and used the final restart with five laps to go to take the lead and the win by Kyle Busch. He then held off the dominant Brad Keselowski, who rebounded by 17th after a speeding penalty.
Busch finished third, Paul Menard fourth and Ryan Blaney, last year’s winner, came home fifth. Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, Brian Scott, Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10.
The 2 hour and 15 minute race saw seven caution flags for 30 laps and eight lead changes among six drivers. Brad Keselowski led the most (138) after starting on the pole.
With his fifth place finish Elliott Sadler is the new point leader after 15 of 35 races. Chase Elliott sits second, Regan Smith third, Ty Dillon fourth and Brian Scott fifth. Trevor Bayne, Brendan Gaughan, James Buescher, Chris Buescher and Landon Cassill make up the top 10.
The Richard Childress Racing program has come alive over the last few weeks and while they failed to win their third consecutive race, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. All four cars, led by the fourth place effort of Paul Menard, finished in the top eight after running second (Menard), third (Gaughan), and fourth (Brian Scott) at one point during the event.
Even better, with point leader Regan Smith’s trouble both Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan closed the point gap just slightly. It’s now less than 100 points heading into Daytona International Speedway and a long 19-week stretch of racing.
Behind them rookie Dylan Kwasniewski is a long way from winning but finishing races will go a long way in helping. The Turner Motorsports driver has had a rough rookie campaign with consistently inconsistent finishes. Thankfully Friday night he avoided making his own mistakes and those of others to bring the No. 31 home with an 11th place finish. That’s as good as top 10 for the driver and for a team that can take the Chevrolet home in one piece.
In the midst of a rocky Sprint Cup Series season, what had been going right for Matt Kenseth ended Friday night. In nine previous Nationwide starts, Kenseth had finished worse than seventh just once. Now make it twice.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver admitted afterwards he was pushing his car all day and it eventually cost him. The No. 20 snapped loose on him midway through the race off Turn 2 and he took a hard hit into the inside wall, which ended his night with a 36th place finish.
While Kenseth was competing for nothing more than a win, Regan Smith was looking to pad his point lead. Instead the ghosts of Kentucky past jumped back up and bit the 7 team again. Last year during the summer stretch the JR Motorsports team lost 58 points and the championship.
Friday night Smith again entered Kentucky with the point lead, but lost it on Lap 169 when he wasn’t clear on Ryan Reed and ended up getting tagged. The contact sent him hard into the outside wall and to a 28th place finish. And yes, he lost the point leader and fell to third.
For two drivers who are trying to make a name for themselves and earn some attention, going about it by going at it under caution isn’t the way to do it. On one hand, the temper can be understood as both Ryan Sieg and Jeremy Clements were battling in the top 20 when they in effect ruined their nights.
But the racing was hard and it was clean, though Sieg took exception and believed Clements got into him. The air off around the rear spoiler sent his No. 39 into the wall and with minor damage he was able to continue on. And he should have just soldiered on but instead he turned Clements under caution. Sieg went on to a 21st place finish and Clements ended up 30th.
Sieg was called to the NASCAR hauler after the race.
Underdog Performer of the Race
The rate he’s going, Landon Cassill might not be considered an underdog by season’s end. Cassill is consistently taking the No. 01 for JD Motorsports and putting it in the top 20 if not top 10 on a weekly basis. The small team may not start races well, but when the green flag falls they find themselves having a nice solid, steady and quiet day.
Kentucky on Friday night was another one. After starting 23rd, Cassill quickly climbed into the top 20 and again outran his underdog counterparts with a 13th place finish. He also sits in the top 10 in points.
Double Duty and Start and Park Effect
9 of 40 drivers who ran Friday night’s race will also compete in Saturday’s Sprint Cup race at Kentucky
2 of 40 drivers chose to start and park on Friday night
While it’s still too early to have a favorite for the championship and with even the drivers saying it’s not time to talk points, the battle continues to get better every week. With Regan Smith’s trouble it opened the door for a non-JR Motorsports driver to lead the points for the first time this year.
It also closed the gap between first and fifth. Now down to less than 100 points heading into next weekend. And that track is a restrictor plate facility where anything can happen and the picture can be shaken up yet again. But Smith will continue to be the driver to watch, as the No. 7 team continues to try and put the long summer from 2013 behind them.
The Nationwide Series now embarks on a long stretch – 18 weeks – without a break. After Friday night, in which contenders found themselves scattered throughout the field, more of the same can be expected over the next couple of weeks. Which will continue to change the championship complexion and provide a great storyline heading into the fall.