NorCal Racing

NASCAR: Larson happy to battle Busch for title

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Martin Truex Jr. (from left), Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott run three wide around Turn 1 during the Overton's 400 Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.

Martin Truex Jr. (from left), Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott run three wide around Turn 1 during the Overton’s 400 Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.

JOLIET – After competing in rough weather conditions during Saturday’s Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick had to turn right around and react to similar circumstances Sunday in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400.

Larson took the checkered flag while Harvick was second in Saturday’s grueling event with temperatures about 150 degrees in the vehicles and then they had to do it all over again. But both drivers were up to the challenge and either led for a significant number of laps or put themselves in a great position to capture the race.

While Kyle Busch grabbed the lead and then held it for the final 59 laps, Harvick was in front for 39 laps while Larson owned the lead for seven laps.

In the end, Busch and Larson exchanged bumps on the final lap with Busch getting the better of the last exchange as he went on to capture his fifth victory of the season and picked up his initial Cup Series win at Chicagoland Speedway since 2008.

Larson completed his successful weekend by finishing second, while Harvick settled for third place to cap the rough two days of racing.

A day after capturing his first NASCAR series victory at the track in impressive fashion, Larson moved in front for the first time Sunday on lap 163 shortly after Harvick won Stage 2 on lap 160. After Harvick and Kurt Busch regained the lead briefly, Larson led from laps 170 through 175 before Harvick and Brad Keselowski each led before Busch moved in front for good.

But despite trailing the current NASCAR Cup Series points leader and the all-time winningest driver at the track, Larson didn’t throw in the towel and continued to use the same strategy as he did the day before, when he drove the high line and skirted the wall to get back into contention.

He found himself in the late stages of the race and benefited as Busch was slowed by lap traffic that suddenly looked as if it might frustrate his hopes of claiming victory.

In the final lap, Larson was finally in a position to try to pass Busch and made an attempt to do so, but instead bumped into him. There was no surprise about what Busch’s response would be and he returned the favor to Larson, who briefly spun out of control as Busch went on to take the checkered flag while Larson placed second.

“I wasn’t really trying to make it in front of him,” Larson said. “I figured if I ran in there to try to clear him, I would have to slow down so much to not hit the wall that he would just turn underneath me and it wouldn’t even have been a battle for the win. I didn’t initially go in there planning to run into the side of him. When I figured I wasn’t going to have enough momentum to clear him, I made the plan to try to squeeze into him to bog him down and it worked. But he was able to get back to my back bumper. I hit him first. I roughed him up and he roughed me up and that’s racing.

“I just went down and talked to him and said that was a lot of fun. I have a lot of respect for Kyle Busch and has a lot of respect for me. That was hard racing and I had a lot of fun. I didn’t think that I’d even get the opportunity to race him side-by-side for the win like that. Running really hard up top to try to catch those guys and to see that I was able to race them like that. I roughed him up and then he roughed me up, so I can’t be mad at him.”

Harvick owned leads on six different occasions for 39 laps, which featured his longest lead from laps 186 through 208. A positive was passing Kurt Busch on lap 160 to win the race’s second stage.

Busch and Harvick remain on top of the series points standings through 17 races. Busch holds a 736-674 lead and joined Harvick as a five-time winner this season. Harvick leads Busch 9-5 in stage wins while Busch owns a 30-27 advantage in playoff points.

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