Kevin Harvick kept waiting for Kyle Busch to get physical on the final lap.
That moment never came.
"I was prepared to get hit," Harvick said. "It’s the last lap, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Kyle Busch isn’t my favorite person, but I enjoy racing him."
Harvick raced to his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the year and 40th overall, holding off Busch at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
Harvick pulled ahead of Busch on the 60th lap and led 132 of the 195 laps. Busch had won six of the previous Nationwide events this year in which he also won the pole.
Sam Hornish Jr. was third, followed by Kasey Kahne, rookie Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, Regan Smith and Brian Scott.
On the final lap, Harvick expected that Busch would "bomb it in" for a collision in the middle of the track between Turns 1 and 2, so he hit the brakes in hopes of getting hit squarely enough to hold the car tight and keep the lead.
Busch, though, decided to stay clean.
"I try not to do those things although my reputation doesn’t really perceive it that way," Busch said. "So, I essentially screwed up. If I would have went to the middle again, I probably could have made up ground on him and tried something in (Turn) 3. You live and learn. You learn for tomorrow."
The victory marked a redemption of sorts for Harvick, who lost the lead on the final lap last year in the Nationwide event at Atlanta when Brad Keselowski bumped Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the front straightaway and Stenhouse went ahead for good in Turn 3.
Harvick finished third last year. He has made seven starts this year, and hasn’t finished lower than fifth in his last six events.
Harvick accused Stenhouse last year of throwing a water bottle out of his car to cause a late caution. With that bitter memory in mind, Harvick crew chief Ernie Cope made sure to save a fresh set of tires in case of another late caution.
When Jeff Green crashed into the outside wall on lap 182, causing the fourth and final caution that allowed the leaders to change tires, Cope’s strategy paid off.
"If the caution comes out and you’ve got more than three laps on your tires, you’re probably going to put them on," Cope said. "The tires are just huge. At this place, they fall off big time. We had two sets to go, and we pitted with 50 to go. We could’ve made it on gas, but if we pitted again we were going to put them on."
When the race restarted, Busch moved past Kahne and was side by side with Harvick with six laps to go.
Busch was a single car length back with three laps to go, but Harvick wouldn’t let him get low and never relinquished the lead.
"There at the end we were a touch too tight, but we were in control of the race from the restart and able to control the bottom and do what we needed to do," Harvick said. "He had a great car on long runs."
Busch was trying to win a Nationwide event at Atlanta for the first time. He has won one Sprint Cup race and four Truck races, but now has five runner-up Nationwide finishes at Atlanta.
Busch has nine Nationwide victories this year.
"For the last restart, we even made changes to free up our race car, and it just wasn’t enough," Busch said. "It was too tight, even there, to make any runs on the outside of Kevin. I had one run on him through 1 and 2 and he blocked me up to the fence. I had to lift so I didn’t wreck. But it is what it is. It’s just racing, I guess."
In the Nationwide points race, series leader Hornish moved 10 points ahead of Dillon.