CONCORD, North Carolina — For the first time of their careers, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were both eliminated from the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in the opening round. Each were sliding backwards and at that point, were likely just hoping to get this season over with.
However, both each also had potential finishes in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 to turn these seasons back around and to hopefully end the 2022 campaign on high notes.
Harvick brought his No. 4 Ford home second while Busch was one spot behind in third.
For Harvick, he was in a great position all day. While his stage finishes show 15th in each, he was in the top 5-6 in terms of track position among those not going for points but for track position.
Harvick had just passed Tyler Reddick for 3rd just prior to the fluke Lap 103 debris caution. He now had a shot at a potential win. On that restart, Harvick was aggressive. With AJ Allmendinger and Chase Elliott also being aggressive, it allowed Harvick to get by both. Then Tyler Reddick spun Elliott for 2nd behind which gave Harvick a gap to Reddick behind now.
Christopher Bell went from 11th to 3rd and behind Reddick and coming hard. However, was Harvick far enough ahead to stave off a Bell comeback?
We’ll never know. Another caution flag flew, then a red flag. Harvick had much older tires than Bell for the final restart and that proved to be the difference in a win in the end.
“I knew we were going to have to have a perfect corner there with Christopher (Bell) having such fresher tires,” Harvick admitted. ” He was able to get through traffic and was able to roll through a little bit more speed in Turn 1, 2, 3 and 4 and just got in front of me, but we were able to hold Kyle off so it’s still a good day.
“Our guys did a great job of putting us in position and having a chance. We were half a lap there from being in the right spot. It didn’t all work out but still a good day. I knew we were in a bit of a pickle there with Christopher on new tires and I just didn’t want to blow the first corner, I wanted to give us a chance he was just able to roll more speed than we were and from there it was just kind of like damage control and make sure you bring the thing home and that’s what we did. They did a good job. They got us in position and that caution coming out killed us there. We were half a lap from coming to the white and caution, so they did a good job.”
It was Harvick’s 4th top 11 finish in 5 ROVAL starts. It was also his first top 5 finish since his pair of wins in early August.
For Busch, this third place run in his No. 18 Toyota comes after being 4th last year. His previous 3 ROVAL finishes were each outside of the top 30.
“It was definitely a good day for our Camry,” said Busch. “There at the end, before everything happened, we were just trying to keep it on the track and stay straight. We were really losing rear tire grip and losing time. But we got that late caution, made a pit stop and took advantage of new tires – came up with a third-place finish.”
This was Busch’s first top 5 finish since June 5 at the World Wide Technology Raceway (a span of 16 races ago). At that time, it was his second straight runner-up and 5th top 3 in the last 7 points paying races.
This ends that slump and takes him to a strong track of his back home in Vegas.
“Vegas is next week and we always look forward to it. We were fast there in the spring so hopefully we can do the same thing,” he said.