LOUDON, N.H. -- When Kyle Busch turned Kyle Larson for the victory July 1 at Chicagoland Speedway and Larson was graceful in defeat, one big question loomed: How would Busch have handled the situation if he was the loser when it came to late-race contact?
It took three weeks to find out.
Busch was as graceful as Busch could be after Kevin Harvick executed the bump-and-run with seven laps remaining to capture the victory in the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Busch didn't have the best car Sunday, and characterized Harvick's move as "it was just a bump," "it wasn't a big deal," "that's fine" and "no harm, no foul." So he handled himself well in defeat.
But he was also honest, and a Busch finishing second is always a little peeved.
"When you're slower, you kind of expect it, but you also think a guy is going to race you fair and try to pass you clean first," Busch said after his second-place finish. "I don't think he ever tried to pass me clean once he got there. He just kept hitting me in the rear bumper each and every time, increasingly harder."
It seems a little strange that Busch would expect Harvick to try to pass him without any contact late in the race, and seven laps to go really isn't a whole lot of time. Harvick usually isn't afraid to be aggressive when he has a trophy, and possibly a championship, on the line.
"I did expect a little bit different there," Busch said. "At least attempt to [pass me clean]. He got there for three laps and tried to work his way around maybe a couple of times and then just started hitting me."
"I figured that's exactly what he was thinking," Harvick said. "I knew I needed to take the opportunity as early as I could get it. I knew he was thinking late, and we needed to do it when he wasn't expecting it.
"The more opportunities to get in his wheelhouse, in his thought process, the less chance that you have."
Harvick indicated he had no choice but to race Busch that way if he wanted to win.
"He's that good [that] if you wait until two or three to go, the entries [into the turns] are going to get shallower, he's going to start grinding on the brakes a little bit harder -- he's going to put himself in a position to not get hit and he's going to get on defense and start to really get aggressive, too," Harvick said.
Harvick also knew he had to hammer Busch hard enough that he couldn't catch him. Going back to Chicagoland, if there was anything that you could criticize Larson for, it was that he didn't hit Busch hard enough, so Busch was able to get back to Larson's bumper.
"Your goal is to not wreck him," Harvick said. "Your goal is to move him out of the groove and get away from him far enough because you know they're going to be mad."
But Chicagoland wasn't the only flashback part of this story. Harvick thought about Michigan, where he felt he wasn't aggressive enough racing against teammate Clint Bowyer, who won the rain-shortened event.
"You have to do what you have to do for your team," Harvick said. "You want to do everything you can to not spin him out and not wreck him and just make it as clean as possible."
In this era of NASCAR's points system, the bump-and-run probably should be considered a clean move as playoff points (points added to drivers' totals throughout the playoffs) could determine who advances to vie for the championship at Homestead. The five playoff points for the win resulted in a 10-point swing between Harvick and Busch. With the victory, Harvick has 32 playoff points, Busch has 30 and Martin Truex Jr. has 26.
"That's really what you're racing for right now," Harvick said.
Busch probably wasn't thinking about playoff points. He just hates to lose. And he obviously showed disappointment.
As Harvick was bumping Busch's bumpers in the laps before the move, Busch's spotter told Busch: "He's just letting you know he's there. Don't worry about it."
Busch didn't need the reminder.
"I wasn't worried about anything," Busch said. "If more would have come of that, if there would have been a crash, it certainly would have been a way different game from here on out."
But it could be a slightly different game.
"He did that because of Chicago," Busch said. "He had a fair game -- everybody has fair game on Kyle Busch, that's for sure when it comes to the fan base," Busch said. "So that's fine. That's how they want to race? That's how I race back."