Harvick, NASCAR win in New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR’s popularity might be on the wane (or so we’re told) but you’d be hard-pressed to find much better action on the track these days.

Consider Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It featured nothing but an edge-of-your-seat finish between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin. A bit of beating and banging and a drag race out of the final turn to the finish line.

If you missed it, well you’ll likely have the opportunity to see numerous replays. It was highlight worthy.

As far as the particulars? Harvick, winless since last November, ended a stretch of 21 winless starts. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver knows the way to victory lane at NHMS – he’d won there three times before Sunday.

But it took a gutsy call by crew chief Rodney Childers to put Harvick out front – opting for track position rather than fresh tires under caution with little more than 25 laps remaining. That put his No. 4 Ford first on the ensuing restart and it proved to be the winning call.

“I didn’t think we had the best chance to win staying out,” Harvick said, “but Rodney and those guys made a great call.

“We had a good car all day, we just never could get track position and stayed out there, ran a lot of good laps.”

As for holding off Hamlin?

“He tried to move me out of the way down there (in Turn 1) and I knew that was coming as close as he was,” Harvick said.

“So, I just stood on the brakes and I’m … half-throttle down the back straightaway. I’m like ‘you’re not getting under me again’ and he drove to the outside of me …. I waited until he got near me and I just put a wheel on him.”

Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota) had been among those taking two tires and the former race leader restarted fourth. It took him nearly the entire run to catch Harvick, but you know what they say – catching someone and passing them, well, it’s not the same thing.

Hamlin did but he couldn’t.

The finish certainly spiced things up, but the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, No. 20 of 36, was far from a snoozer. Maybe you have to be there, I don’t know.

Kyle Busch won the opening stage and led 118 laps, Aric Almirola took the second and there were enough lead changes and cautions too keep things interesting.

The rest of the rundown had Erik Jones (JGR) in third and Ryan Blaney (Team Penske Ford) in fourth and Matt DiBenedetto (Leavine Family Racing Toyota) finishing fifth. Those folks didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to finish that high – other than run extremely well for the better part of the day.

The three had varied pit strategies as well – and were in the top 10 before and after the final pit cycle. So nobody snookered anyone to gain spots they hadn’t pretty much already earned. Jones had stayed out while Blaney and DiBenedetto took right-side tires only.

It was an impressive showing for Hamlin, whose team rolled out a backup after he spun and damaged the primary on Friday.

“This is nowhere near the car that I wrecked on Friday,” Hamlin said.

Speaking of backups – Alex Bowman finished 14th in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48/88 Chevrolet. On-track incidents damaged the No. 88 team’s primary (Friday) and backup (Saturday). Crew chief Greg Ives “borrowed” the No. 48 team’s backup for race day.

The No. 48 primary didn’t fare as well – seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson lost laps when he lost power steering and finished 30th.

Points leader and defending series champion Joey Logano (Team Penske Ford) finished ninth.

• Harvick became the season’s 10th winner – his playoff chances were already solid with his third-place points position. Sunday’s win erased any doubt.

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