Rain and mist plagued New Hampshire Motor Speedway for much of Sunday morning, forcing Kevin Harvick to wait three hours longer before his journey to Victory Lane in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 could begin. By the end, it took a late charge for him to score his sixth win of the year.
Kurt Busch started on the pole alongside Martin Truex Jr., while Landon Cassill and Michael McDowell were moved to the rear after wrecking their primary cars in practice, forcing them to switch to backups. Due to the weather delay, a competition caution was scheduled for lap 35.
Busch held off Truex easily to maintain the lead. On lap 14, Cassill crashed for the second time in the weekend as he wrecked in turn three, bringing out the caution. As cars were not permitted to add fuel until the competition yellow, some drivers like Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, and Darrell Wallace Jr. pitted for new tires.
The restart took place on lap 19 as Busch led; a push by Denny Hamlin on the outside line propelled him ahead of Truex. After a lap, A.J. Allmendinger blew a left rear tire, sending him into turn one and producing another yellow flag. Busch remained in first as the race resumed on lap 24, while Kyle Busch‘s strong restart to take second was negated when Hamlin passed him for the spot. Ahead of him, Kurt Busch’s lead grew to over a second.
The scheduled competition caution occurred on lap 35. The leaders pitted; Truex, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, and Larson took two tires to be the first five cars off pit road, while Kyle Busch led the four-tire pitters ahead of Kurt. Jimmie Johnson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. elected to stay out, inheriting the front row spots as two of seven drivers to not pit (behind them were McMurray, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Ty Dillon, and McDowell). The green flag waved on lap 40 as Stenhouse led Johnson, while Truex and Blaney quickly closed in on the pair.
Truex took the lead on lap 48. Four laps later, a caution for what appeared to be a spring rubber came out. Logano and Blake Jones – the latter making his Monster Energy Cup Series debut – pitted before the restart. With 20 laps remaining in the first stage, Truex and Blaney led the field to the green; on the inside, Blaney spun his tires and stacked his line up as Truex pulled ahead. He never lost his lead as he scored the stage win, while Chase Elliott took second. Johnson finished third, followed by Kurt Busch, Blaney, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Clint Bowyer, and Logano. Aric Almirola passed Stenhouse to steal tenth and claim a stage point.
Stage #2 began on lap 81 as Truex led, while Dillon had a restart violation and was issued a pass-through penalty. Ten laps into the stage, Truex’s lead over Elliott had ballooned to nearly 1.5 seconds, but as the race entered the triple-digit-lap mark, Elliott narrowed the margin. On lap 131, Elliott made his move on the outside – which had proven to be the dominant groove – to take the lead. A lap later, Truex continued to lose ground as Kurt Busch overtook him for second.
Busch attempted to close the gap on Elliott, but could not mount a challenge as Elliott recorded his first stage win of 2018. Behind the two were Truex, Harvick, Almirola, Kyle Busch, Bowyer, Johnson, Blaney, and Logano.
Between stages, Busch beat Elliott off pit road to become the new leader for the start of the final stage on lap 158. Behind the two, Busch’s Stewart-Haas Racing team-mates Almirola and Harvick battled for third, the former eventually winning. On lap 162, Almirola passed Elliott for second as his SHR ally grew his lead. Harvick claimed third from Elliott on lap 203. Almirola passed Busch for first on lap 212. Shortly after, Keselowski began reporting brake problems with his #2 car as Almirola lapped him.
On lap 223, Daniel Suárez pitted to begin a cycle of green flag stops. Four laps later, Almirola and Busch pitted; the latter lost progress when he was forced to stop to allow Blaney, whose pit box was behind his, to leave his stall. Busch eventually entered his box first, followed by Blaney reversing before exiting. The delay caused Busch to drop to fifth upon completing his stop. Meanwhile, Bowyer was penalized for pitting outside his pit stall, leading to him returning to the pits to be held a lap.
After finishing their stops, Almirola and Harvick dueled for the lead before the latter pulled in front. The two subsequently encountered traffic in Hamlin and Jones, whom Almirola took advantage of to retake first as Harvick’s momentum slowed. With 45 laps left, Bowyer hit the wall to bring out the yellow flag.
Almirola, Harvick, and Kyle Busch were the first to hit pit road. A faster, thirteen-second stop for Busch enabled him to take the lead from both of them, while Almirola’s fourteen-second stop dropped him to third.
The restart took place with 39 laps to go. Busch, with Truex behind him on the outside, easily got away from Harvick and the inside as Almirola, running behind Harvick, had a poor restart and fell out of the top five. He eventually climbed back up to fourth, trailing the so-called “Big Three” of Busch, Harvick, and Truex; the trio combined for fourteen wins so far in 2018 (five for Busch and Harvick, four for Truex).
As the laps continued to tick, Harvick attempted to decrease the gap to Busch. Eventually, with ten laps left, Harvick was on Busch’s bumper as the former got the latter loose on various occasions before he finally made his move with four laps remaining: in turn three, Harvick pushed Busch out of the line to take the lead. Busch could not catch up as Harvick scored his career-best sixth win of the season.
“I just didn’t know if I was gonna get there again,” Harvick stated in an interview with NBCSN. “I felt like [the late push] was my best opportunity to do what I do to do to win. I didn’t want to wreck him, but I didn’t want to waste a bunch of time.”
“It’s racing,” Busch commented. “We had a really, really poor performance today. Our Interstate Batteries Camry just wasn’t there all weekend. We kept fighting the same things all weekend long, and we can never make any gains on it all through practice and we kind of struggled with it through the race.”
“We controlled the restart, drove away by a little bit, but we weren’t the best car in the long run. All [those] SHR cars are really, really good today, they were all fast, so it was gonna be hard to hold them off. I was just kind of backing up and, three, four, five corners in a row, and with a faster car, I’m not sure [Harvick] had to do it. But he did, it’s fine. How you race is how you get raced.”
Next week, the Cup Series returns to Pocono Raceway for the Gander Outdoors 400. Busch is the defending winner.
2018 Foxwoods Resort Casino 301
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