He didn’t have the best car, he chased the adjustments all night and the pit crew struggled on pit road on Friday night at Kentucky Speedway.
Yet when the checkered flag flew, it was Kevin Harvick who was celebrating his second NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season for JR Motorsports.
Harvick was able to clear Kyle Busch on the final restart of the night with five laps to go to take the top spot. Despite a hard charge from the dominant car on the night, the No. 22 Ford driven by Brad Keselowski, Harvick crossed the start-finish line first in his No. 5 Chevy.
The night was no walk in the park for Harvick, however.
At one point in the race, Harvick chewed out his crew over the radio for making the wrong adjustments and having slow stops on pit road. Working through the struggles, though, the team was able to celebrate in Victory Lane together at the end of the night.
"I kind of got into them pretty good. We made a lot of mistakes. Just a frustrating place to race and a frustrating weekend," Harvick said after climbing from the car. "In the end we had a good restart, and they made the car better in the end."
Harvick and crew chief Ernie Cope put the No. 5 team on a different pit strategy than most of the leaders halfway through the race, which allowed Harvick to have fresher tires than Busch in the closing laps.
"We were kind of on a different strategy there and wound up it kind of worked out there where we were able to have fresher tires at the end," he said. "In the end we got a great restart, we were able to get out front and the car was a lot better."
Keselowski followed in second, followed by Busch, Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, Brian Scott, Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler.
For Keselowski, the runner-up finish was a tough pill to swallow after a dominant performance. Leading a race-high 139 of the 200 laps, Keselowski appeared to be cruising to victory until a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 149 threw a wrench in the plans.
However, a caution on Lap 155 for debris allowed Keselowski, and a host of others, to take the wave-around to get his lap back and restart the race in the 17th spot. With a fast car underneath him and a little luck on his side, the driver of the No. 22 Ford caught a number of breaks when a string of cautions flew in the closing laps of the race.
As Busch and Harvick battled for the lead, Keselowski sliced and diced his way through the field. Making his way to fourth, it appeared as if time would run out for a serious challenge, but a caution flew with nine laps to go, Keselowski was bunched back up with the leaders.
On the restart, Harvick jumped out to the lead as Keselowski battled side-by-side for 2nd. Clearing the No. 54 Toyota with four laps to go, Keselowski closed the gap on Harvick for the lead, but it just wasn"t enough.
"(The penalty) put us a bit behind, but you have to give credit to Kevin (Harvick) and his team," Keselowski said. "They were really fast there at the end, and I wasn’t gaining on them. We needed a little bit more, I think. Had I been able to stay in the lead I might have been able to use the clean air, but he was a little bit faster in the end, so they deserve credit.
"Great night all around," he said. "Qualifying on the pole, lead a lot of laps, just one spot short of where we want to finish with this Discount Tire Ford."
Unable to hold off Harvick on the final restart, Kyle Busch eventually dropped to third. After leading 38 of the 200 laps, Busch’s hopes at a weekend sweep were dashed.
"We didn’t have the car to beat so shouldn’t be upset with a third, but there at the end we had the opportunity to win the race and through the middle part of the race I passed the 5 (Kevin Harvick) car and just didn’t have enough on the final restarts unfortunately," Busch said. "Not enough speed for the first five or so laps after a restart and then I could kind of start inching my way away a little bit. Just not enough there to hold Kevin off. He just flat drove right by me on the restart. We’re all wide open so I’d say there’s a problem under the hood a little bit."
Regan Smith, the points leader going into the night, was involved in a wreck with the lapped car of Dakoda Armstrong on Lap 169. Smith’s team made repairs to the car, but it was not enough as they finished the night 28th, his worst finish of the year.
The misfortune for Smith allowed Elliott Sadler to move atop the series standings, followed by rookie Chase Elliott, then Smith.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Daytona International Speedway for what should be a wild night under the lights on the Fourth of July.