CLICK: Full race results and full Nationwide Series championship standings.
Kevin Harvick emerged victorious at Chicagoland Speedway in the Jimmy John's Freaky Fast 300 Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon, with a comfortable two second margin over the field after long-time leader Kyle Busch was tripped up by his strategy in the last round of pit stops.
Brian Scott had started from pole position after his lap of 29.767s (181.409mph) on the 1.5-mile tri-oval put him 0.036s ahead of Ryan Blaney and won him his fifth pole in 168 NASCAR Nationwide Series races; however it was Busch starting from the second row who soon passed Scott for the lead on lap 6 and who then stayed there through to the planned competition caution on lap 25 which had been arranged to enable teams to check track conditions after Friday's rain.
Continuing to show increasing signs of domination, Busch quickly picked up the lead again following a round of pit stops once he had fended off a move from Chase Elliott. As the race ran trouble-free through to lap 63, Busch pulled out over a second on Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard and Denny Hamlin as Elliott dropped back to sixth. The second caution of the afternoon came out when Derrike Cope ran up high into the wall in turn 2, with Busch winning the race off pit road ahead of Harvick, Larson and Menard but Hamlin dropped out of the top 20 after a problem with the air gun on the front right wheel of the #20 and Ty Dillon also suffered a similar issue in his own pit stop in the #3.
Busch had to work hard to see off Harvick at the restart, and after the next caution on lap 93 (for Tanner Berryhill hitting the wall) Busch was once again under heavy pressure to maintain the lead, this time from Larson and Elliott. A new caution on lap 134 for debris in turn 4 after Menard scraped the wall saw Busch and Harvick once again lead the race off pit road, with Hamlin completing his recovery back to third ahead of Elliott, Larson and Trevor Bayne only to get hit with a pit lane speeding penalty sending him tumbling back down the running order once again.
Everyone was still around half a dozen laps short on making it to the finish, but a new caution on lap 150 for Jeremy Clements' engine blowing up allowed the leaders to come on to pit road one last time. A variety of pit stops saw Ty Dillon win the race off pit road ahead of Harvick and Brendan Gaughan while Chris Buescher, Aric Almirola and Brian Scott opted to stay out hoping that the prolonged clear-up for fluids from Clements' car would eke out the laps they needed to make it all the way. The biggest shock of all was the sight of Kyle Busch dropping to 16th after opting for a full four-tyre service while everyone else went for two or fuel-only.
Scott took the lead from Buescher at the restart and Gaughan narrowly survived a lurid slide after being tapped by Dylan Kwasniewski which helped Busch recover into the top ten by the time that Denny Hamlin's engine let go to return the race to yellow on lap 164, the extra clean-up time allaying the fuel conservation worries of the trio who had stayed out.
Harvick led at the green flag on lap 174 with Larson in second, but Busch was flying through the field and up to third place within four laps of the restart but still racing against time to hunt down the lead pair in the few minutes now remaining. He was able to close up onto the back of Larson but couldn't find his way past and had to settle for third, while Harvick was already two seconds further down the road clinching the chequered flag, his fourth win of the season (and his 44th in 314 series starts) and the ninth win this year in total for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports squad.
"Well, we didn't have many laps on the tyres, but that's the call that won us the race," said Harvick of the decision to take two tyres only on the final round of pit stops. "The car was fast, but when we got out front and the tires not having many laps, and the #54 being buried in the field—that's what won us this race today."
In the championship standings, Chase Elliott continues to lead after a tenth place finish at Chicagoland, with Regan Smith only managing to close up by two points. Ty Dillon, Elliott Sadler, Brian Scott and Trevor Bayne also stay in touch after recording top ten finishes this weekend.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings.