Kevin Harvick won Saturday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge under the floodlights at the 1.5-mile Tesas Motor Speedway, having led for 127 of the 200 laps of the race.
Polesitter Kyle Busch had been his only real competition over the first half of the race, but once the track cooled in the night air the edge that the #33 held over the #54 grew increasingly large, leaving the winner of the event in little doubt as the chequered flag loomed.
"I didn't want to make a big mistake and give up a big chunk of time there," said Harvick of the final run to the finish. ""But it all timed itself out pretty good, and everything worked out."
Busch had led the field to the green flag at the start of the final Nationwide Series night race of the 2012 season and immediately pulled away at the front, with Elliott Sadler slipping into second spot ahead of Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who were duelling over third place.
A caution on lap 13 came out for Hal Martin sliding up into the wall at turn 2. The leaders stayed out, although Stenhouse was controversially cited for not maintaining a consistent speed when he pulled a 'fake out' toward pit lane. He was docked a position before the restart on lap 18, which immediately saw Busch check out again at the front, only for his tyres to start to go off after 30 laps which allowed Kevin Harvick to start to reel him back in again.
Austin Dillon had come in for a pit stop just a lap before the second caution of the day came out on lap 45 for debris. That allowed the rest of the field to come in for a service under yellow, forcing Dillon to stay out and take the wavearound to the back of the lead lap in 26th place. There were no other position changes at the front, and so Busch led the restart on lap 49 ahead of Harvick, Joey Logano and Sadler, with Cole Whitt ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The handling of the #54 was starting to get uncomfortably loose for Busch on this latest set of scuffed tyres in the cooling evening conditions, and on lap 65 he was passed on the high side by Kevin Harvick. Busch was subsequently also passed by Sadler and Whitt and was doubtless happy to see the yellow flags come out on lap 83 for a brush with the wall in turn 2 for Jason Bowles, a caution that allowed the leaders to come back to pit road and Busch's team to attempt some set-up changes to counteract the drop in the #54's performance.
Harvick led Busch at the restart on lap 90. Busch immediately made a play around the outside of Harvick for the lead, but he bottomed out over the bumpy Texas Motor Speedway surface and came dangerously close to sailing up into the wall. That released Harvick at the front, with Sadler in close pursuit in second as Busch had to go three-wide with Whitt and Logano to salvage third.
A lengthy green flag period allowed the true running order to evolve: Sadler's car started to fade and he dropped down to fourth behind Busch, while Logano moved up to second behind Harvick. As the race approached two-thirds race distance, Danica Patrick was having a good run and was up to sixth, just behind Sam Hornish Jr. who'd had a calamitous Keystone Kops pit stop under the previous caution to drop to 23rd spot but who was now right back into contention. Brian Scott was in seventh ahead of Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse, who was struggling with an ill-handling #6 and had dropped to the back of the top ten along with Cole Whitt.