By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
BRISTOL, Tenn. – For most of the final 200 laps of Sunday’s rain-interrupted Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick was where he needed to be – out front and in control of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Behind Harvick, who took the checkered flag 1.933 seconds ahead of runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the race was often out of control, as the essence of traditional Bristol made an emphatic appearance at the .533-mile concrete short track.
Harvick’s victory was his second at Thunder Valley, his second of the season and the 33rd of his career. It was the first Bristol victory for crew chief Rodney Childers and for Stewart-Haas Racing, whose co-owner, Tony Stewart, finished 30th after experiencing mechanical problems in his final run at the high-banked speedway.
“We should have won a lot of races this year, but we just had things not go our way,” said Harvick, who was out front for 128 laps and pulled away for the win after a brief rain shower caused the ninth and final caution with 66 laps left. “We made mistakes, or whatever the case may be. But, to get back into Victory Lane here at Bristol feels really good.
“We’ve had some good cars here over the last few years… We knew we had the performance that we needed to have in the cars pretty much every week. And it’s been one of those deals where things have just not gone exactly right. But to have the win now and just try to get that momentum before we get into the Chase and get things rolling is really what we needed.”
Denny Hamlin regained two lost laps to finish third, followed by Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher, who moved into 30th place in the standings with his fifth-place run. By virtue of his Aug. 1 victory at Pocono, Buescher will qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup if he’s still in the top 30 three races hence, at the end of the 26-race regular season.
Pole winner Carl Edwards finished sixth, with Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano completing the top 10.
Stenhouse posted the best finish of the season for Roush Fenway Racing, running a paint scheme and wearing a helmet in honor of close friend Bryan Clauson, who lost his life because of injuries sustained in a midget car accident on Aug. 6.
“We really wanted to get this Bryan Clauson tribute car in victory lane,” Stenhouse said. “It just wasn’t meant to be today. We made our car a lot faster throughout the race and came from two laps down to get back on the lead lap.
“We missed some wrecks and gave it all we had. I thought we were matching the 4 car (Harvick) there lap for lap, but he got away from us, and we had to restart sixth there on that last restart, but it was an honor to drive this car.”
On an afternoon where rosin helped provide speed in the low groove, Harvick’s most formidable competition disappeared before the finish of the event, which was suspended because of rain after 48 laps on Saturday night and resumed on Sunday after showers blew through the area by late afternoon.
On Lap 358, Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 256 laps, spun in Turn 2, thanks to a broken suspension part. As Busch’s No. 18 Toyota sat sideways at the exit from the corner, Justin Allgaier delivered the coup de grace, unable to avoid Busch’s car.
Having started the race on Saturday in relief of ailing Michael Annett, Allgaier finished off Busch’s Camry before ricocheting up the track and collecting the competitive cars of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson.
“We’ve been having parts failures here, so something we’ve got to address and fix,” Busch said. “I’m really tired of losing races here with parts falling apart, so they’ll hear about it on Tuesday.”
Busch also had some choice words for Allgaier and his spotter.
“I’ve been wrecking for half a lap and they just come on through and clean us out,” he said. “That’s stupid, so I don’t know – frustrating day. Let’s go home.”
Allgaier said he tried to go low to avoid Busch but then tried to miss the No. 18 on the high side.
“The No. 22 (Logano) ducked in front of me getting into (Turn) 1 and I had to jam on the brakes pretty hard,” Allgaier said. “I got really loose and I was just trying to catch it. That’s when the spotter was telling me that the No. 18 was spinning and he kept rolling down the hill.
“So at first I committed to go below him, because I was already on the bottom, and then he was still coming down the hill, so I tried to go out around the outside of him and, unfortunately, I just didn’t make it.”
Comparatively speaking, that wreck was a minor incident relative to the chaos that followed.
Battling for the lead after a restart on Lap 372, Kurt Busch turned sideways in his No. 41 Chevrolet, clipped the side of Joey Logano’s Ford and collided with the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski, who subsequently finished 33rd and lost the series points lead to Harvick.
The contact between Busch and Keselowski ignited a wreck that involved 11 cars and eliminated Busch, Matt Kenseth and Sunoco rookie Ryan Blaney from the race.
“I think I just missed the bottom groove by a few inches, got loose and the wreck was on,” Busch said. “The way that our car was restarting it felt comfortable, it felt good. That inside with the (rosin), if you don’t hit it exactly right you lose a lot of time.
“I tried to make up for it and got loose… We had a win in our sights and I just drove the car at 101 percent instead of that 99. I just over-pushed the groove by a few inches. When you miss your line on a (rosin) grip level, you go for a ride.”
Notes: Harvick came from 24th on the grid to win the race, the deepest in the field a Bristol winner has started since Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag from 30th in the 2004 Night Race… Three of Stenhouse’s career top-five finishes have come at Bristol… There were 20 lead changes among eight drivers in a race that produced nine cautions for 106 laps.