BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both came to Bristol Motor Speedway with winning streaks on the line.
Harvick had won two straight Camping World Truck Series races while Busch had won the last five NASCAR races run in Bristol.
After Wednesday’s O’Reilly 200, Harvick’s streak was still alive, Busch’s was no more and the chain of events that led to Harvick’s victory reignited the festering rivalry between the two drivers.
Busch and Elliott Sadler, who drives for Harvick’s team in the Nationwide Series, had already traded paint early in the race before they found themselves side-by-side near the midway point. Busch tried to slide his No. 18 Toyota in front of Sadler’s No. 23 Chevrolet on lap 99, but the two trucks made contact.
Busch slapped the wall, badly damaging the right front of his vehicle, but he elected to cruise around the track until he had the chance to spin Sadler in the exit of turn 2 on lap 102.
The wreck ultimately ended Busch’s night and doomed him to a 30th-place finish. Sadler, who was running in the top five when Busch spun him out, battled back to salvage a ninth-place result.
As Busch stalked to his hauler, he said Sadler had wrecked him on purpose, and you simply had to follow the money to figure out why.
“Where does (Sadler’s) paycheck come from? Racing earlier tonight, we pulled a slide job on him and he hit me three times after that,” Busch said. “Then he hooked me and wrecked us. I’m not going to put up with it.”
With Busch behind the pit wall and Sadler mired back in traffic, Harvick cruised to the victory, surviving a restart with 10 laps remaining to land in Victory Lane for the third week in a row. Johnny Sauter finished second while Todd Bodine, James Buescher and Timothy Peters rounded out the top five.
As Harvick celebrated in Victory Lane, he dismissed Busch’s accusations as sour grapes.
“That shows you how smart Kyle Busch is,” Harvick said. “(Sadler) isn’t even driving for us tonight. It’s just Kyle bitching because Kyle didn’t win.
“You can’t fix a crybaby, and he’s just a big crybaby.”
On a night when track position was a hot commodity, Harvick credited his pit crew for putting him in position to win the race. Harvick gained the track position he needed when he pitted on lap 54, his only stop of the race.
He led the final 103 laps, surviving plenty of restarts along the way on a night when the caution flag waved nine times for 62 laps.
“I just want to thank this pit crew,” Harvick said. “They’re the ones that won this race tonight. They had a smoking pit stop and that was the key moment in the race for us.”
Sadler won the pole and led the first 53 laps before surrendering his lead when he pitted on lap 54. Jason White, who made a pit stop on lap 31, assumed the lead and stayed out front until Harvick got by him on lap 98. It looked like Harvick, Sadler and Busch were destined to battle it out the rest of the way before Sadler and Busch had their run-in.
From Sadler’s perspective, Busch’s spotter was at fault for not telling Busch that he wasn’t clear to pull in front of Sadler’s No. 23 Chevy.
“Honestly that time I think his spotter didn’t tell him I was there,” Sadler said. “I hate that he came and wrecked us. It was just good hard racing.
“I wish he’d just watch the tape and see what happened and understand what happened before he came back and retaliated. It’s just Bristol racing, I guess.”
With his runner-up finish, Sauter left Bristol as the points leader, holding a seven-point lead over Buescher.