But when the 24 Hours of Bristol was all said and done, it was Kevin Harvick who showed no mercy, driving off into the sunset to pick up his second career Sprint Cup Series victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. Harvick survived a restart with 50 laps left and easily held off runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. before doing some celebratory burnouts on the frontstretch with his boss Tony Stewart, who finished 30th in his final Cup race at BMS.
“I wanted him to go on a victory lap with me to say goodbye to all the fans one last time here at Bristol, but that was pretty cool doing burnouts with him,” Harvick said after giving the Stewart-Haas Racing team its first Cup win at BMS. “To get back to Victory Lane here at Bristol feels really good.
"To have the win now and just try to get that momentum before we get into the Chase and get things rolling is really what we needed.”
Like Stenhouse, Denny Hamlin recovered after going two laps down early in the race to finish third. Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five.
Harvick, who started 24th, was extremely fast from the get-go, but he spent the first half of the race being overshadowed by Kyle Busch. The No. 18 Toyota was the class of the field, and Busch led 256 laps on the day.
But a broken rear shock brought down the curtain on the Kyle Busch Show, ultimately leading to a frustrating end for Busch, who spun out between turns 1 and 2 on lap 359. After the No. 18 machine came to a stop, Justin Allgaier hit Busch’s Toyota and hard enough to damage it beyond repair, leaving Busch fuming over a 39th-place finish.
“The person that’s really the biggest moron out there is the spotter of the 46 and the driver of the 46,” Busch said. “I’m wrecking for half a lap there and they come around and clean us out there. Let’s go home.”
On lap 374, Kurt Busch got loose while racing for the lead and triggered a wreck that took out several contenders, including Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson. Busch said he just missed his line a bit, and took responsibility for the pileup.
“I just missed the bottom groove by a couple inches,” Kurt Busch said. “If you don’t hit it exactly right, you lose a lot of speed. I was driving it 101 percent. I was driving it on the edge to try to win the Bristol Night Race.”
With several contenders out of the way, Harvick’s car rose to the top with unrivaled speed, especially on longer runs. He initially held off Austin Dillon on the final restart of the race before pulling away to a comfortable advantage. Stenhouse, who rolled off sixth on the last restart, eventually moved up to second place. But time wasn’t on his side as the final laps melted away.
Stenhouse was running a special tribute car to honor his late friend Bryan Clauson, who died on Aug. 7 following a wreck at the Belleville Midget Nationals in Kansas.
“I really wanted to park it in Victory Lane for Bryan and his family, but we came up one spot short,” Stenhouse said. “I’m really happy with how we ended the day. It was a tough weekend.”
Jeff Gordon, who was driving the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished 11th in his final race at BMS. Gordon ran up front for most of the race before fading late.