Penske's Brad Keselowski led 131 laps of the FW Webb 200 Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon, but looked as though he would have to settle for second place after losing the top spot at the final start - only to have the race handed back to him when Kevin Harvick fell foul of lapped traffic with 22 laps to go.
"It was one of those days when things came together for us," said Keselowski after the race. "We had a good car and caught a little bit of a break."
Keselowski had successfully converted pole position to a lead for the first 37 laps, with Harvick swiftly moving up into the chase position in second while meanwhile Kyle Busch - the winner of the last three Nationwide races at Loudon - was dropping back badly with a fuel pressure problem.
A caution for debris from Travis Pastrana's car allowed everyone to come in for their first pit stops, Keselowski and Harvick dropping down several positions after opting for a four-tyre change allowing Kasey Kahne and Austin Dillon to take to the front with two-tyre stops.
Busch's crew fretted over the #54 and changed a carburettor in an attempt to fix the fuel pressure issue, but there was a sense of despair when they couldn't find any obvious problem to solve. Sure enough it was taken back to the garage minutes later for a fuel cell change, only coming back out when he was already 27 laps down.
The next caution was on lap 81, when a tyre going down sent Travis Pastrana into a hard hit into the SAFER barrier. Happiest to see the yellows come out was series points leader Elliott Sadler whose crew had gone the wrong way with changes in the earlier visit to pit lane and who had dropped out of the top ten s a result. Rickey Stenhouse Jr. was also relieved to see pit lane again to see if the team could do anything about his excessive wheel spin.
This time it was Keselowski opting to go for the two-tyre change in the pits and he duly reclaimed the lead for the restart alongside the only other driver on the lead lap to do likewise, Cole Whitt. Keselowski shot off in front while Whitt's pit strategy boost didn't last long under green and he soon fell away, leaving Sam Hornish Jr. in second ahead of a charging Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick in fourth place.
Whitt was the cause of the third yellow on lap 122 when he appeared to mistime his braking into turn 1, locked up and ploughed into the back of Danny Efland's car, turning the #4 around and sending it backwards into the SAFER barrier with enough force to see the rear of the car leap up into the air. Whitt himself sustained some serious front end crumpling in the process.
This time everyone at the front opted for a two-tyre pit stop which meant that Keselowski just managed to beat his Penske team mate Hornish out of pit lane, followed by Dillon and Harvick in an unchanged top four. Keselowski was again quick to get away, leaving the rest of them in a three-wide battle for second that was finally won by Harvick, while Dillon found his momentum cut off and he succumbed to Kasey Kahne as he was briefly shuffled down to fifth place.
Danica Patrick got loose in turn 4 on lap 150 while passing the lapped traffic of Jason Bowles but did a nice save with the spin to end up pointing back in the right direction. Other than Patrick - and Sadler, still seeking a late cure for his handling ills by taking on four new tyres - few cars came onto pit lane, preferring instead to maintain their track position for the restart despite some concerns about fuel should the race go into green-white-chequered overtime.
This time Keselowski couldn't run and hide at the green flag, and found himself bested by Kevin Harvick for the lead; behind them Hornish held onto third while Dillon again found himself temporarily shuffled back to fifth place, this time by Rickey Stenhouse Jr. with Kasey Kahne holding a watching brief in sixth.
With 22 laps to go, Harvick had built up a lead of almost a second and a half when he suddenly found himself boxed in among lapped traffic and stuck behind Amber Cope - running 33 laps down - leading to come minor contact that checked his momentum. Instantly Keselowski pounced, ripping through the gap that separated them and passing the #33 with ease before anyone knew quite what was happening.
Harvick was unable to come back on Keselowski in the final run to the chequered flag, but there was at least some consolation for Richard Childress Racing when Austin Dillon finally outmuscled Hornish for third place in the final half dozen laps. Harvick still made a point of lying in wait on the apron of the track for Amber Cope and giving the front of her car a swipe as the two entered pit lane, and continued to express his displeasure to pit lane reporters about drivers with no right to be allowed out racing.
"The #24, every time you'd come to her, she didn't know whether she was going high or low," he said. "It's not one of those deals. It's somebody who shouldn't be on the race track and has no clue what they're doing in a race car. She wants to be Danica Patrick, but she can't hold her helmet."
Elliott Sadler's final pit stop enabled him to recover six places and finish in seventh place by the end, enabling him to retain his points lead in the series standings. He's now just 3pts ahead of Austin Dillon, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. a further 13pts back in third ahead of Sam Hornish Jr.
There was some minor drama once the cars parked in pit road, with Stenhouse climbing out of the #6 and promptly collapsing, a combination of the fierce afternoon heat and having already been sick as a dog all week with a bad case of strep throat. He quickly revived, but was placed on a stretcher as a safeguard. Watching on with concern, Kasey Kahne also looked distinctly unsteady for a moment, as much a sympathetic reaction as anything more serious than dehydration.
"I feel okay now," Stenhouse said after a trip to the infield care centre. "They gave me some fluids and got good to go. I think just being a little sick all week, not eating much and not drinking enough fluids caught up with me after the race ... My throat hurt throughout the whole week. I didn't really want to drink or eat anything and it caught up with me. Yesterday and today I drank plenty of fluids, but you've got to do it before, so I think we should be OK for Chicago."
Full race results as well as practice and qualifying times
and Nationwide Series points standings