In a race that saw two of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ elite drivers play chase to the checkered flag, Kyle Busch held off Kevin Harvick to win Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Harried by Harvick for 23 laps after a restart on Lap 312 of 334, Busch powered his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota across the finish line .300 seconds ahead of the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. The key to Busch’s victory was a mistake-free run over the final laps.
“(Harvick was) probably just a tick faster overall, but I just had to make sure to do everything I could to hit all my marks and everything to focus on making sure that I did the right things to block his air a little bit,” Busch said.
Harvick acknowledged that Busch did a good job of protecting the bottom lane and avoiding errors over the closing laps.
“Kyle’s car was good enough to where he could get out there and run pretty good in clean air,” Harvick said. “It took us the whole run to be able to get everything back together and do everything we needed to do to make up a position.
“We weren’t as good behind him as we were in front of him. His car would run fast enough. There is only so much you can make up.”
The win was Busch’s first of the season after three runner-up results, his third victory at Texas and the 44th of his career, tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for 16th on the all-time list.
“It feels awesome,” Busch said. “Any time you can win at a track that kind of isn’t maybe one of your favorites or isn’t one of your best, then it definitely means even more because it just – you try to focus on those tracks and make it a little bit more meaningful and a little bit more special to get it done.
“So cool though to be in Victory Lane here – finally this year and punch our ticket into the Playoffs and of course, you know also just continue our hot streak of being the points leader right now and keeping these guys focused on what we need to do all year long.”
Harvick was the poster child for Murphy’s Law on Sunday, and it was a minor miracle that he was there at the end of the race to challenge Busch. The 2014 series champion won the first stage of the race under caution after building a lead that exceeded 12 seconds but lost the top spot to Busch off pit road on Lap 86.
That was just the beginning of Harvick’s troubles. He came off pit road ninth, losing eight spots, after a flying lug nut jammed the jack on a Lap 129 stop and prevented it from lowering. On Lap 136, he brought the No. 4 back to pit road with a loose wheel and lost a lap, only to regain it by staying on the track during an extended cycle of stops.
During a Lap 237 pit stop under caution for Paul Menard’s blown right front tire, one of Harvick’s crew members fell into his pit stall trying to corral a tire, resulting in a too-many-men-over-the-wall penalty.
By Lap 278, however, Harvick had regained the second spot with a pass of eventual fourth-place finisher Erik Jones, and a caution on Lap 303 for Ryan Newman’s hard crash into the Turn 1 wall gave him the opportunity to close up on Busch.
That was as close as Harvick got. Busch pulled ahead after the Lap 312 restart and stayed in front the rest of the way.
Jamie McMurray ran third, the best finish for the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet since a second place at Talladega in May of last year. Jones likewise collected his first top five of the season.
Ryan Blaney overcame brake problems to run fifth. Joey Logano, pole winner Kurt Busch, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., Clint Bowyer and William Byron completed the top 10. The 10th-place result was a career-best for Byron, a contender for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
Wallace collected his first top 10 since running second in the Daytona 500.
Busch expanded his series lead to 38 points over second-place Logano. Blaney is 51 points back in third.
Note: As has been done in the past, NASCAR will capture cars from each manufacturer for the purposes of a wind tunnel test at a time in the season deemed as appropriate. The cars going to the wind tunnel after Texas: 1, 4, 9, 18, 20, 22.