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Kevin Harvick's win in unusual Bristol race feels just as good

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Kevin Harvick won the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway that wasn't.

He won a race that had four rain delays, including one of 17 hours, 42 minutes, that stretched from the race being suspended overnight Saturday into Sunday, making it the first night race in Bristol history not actually completed at night.

The weirdness didn't end there. He won a Bristol race that was nothing really like Bristol had ever seen. Two distinct grooves existed, one upper groove and one lower groove that had improved grip thanks to a resin applied to an 18-inch-wide lane.

It created a Bristol that didn't feature any classic bump-and-runs, the kind that generated excitement back in what many view as the good ol' days. But it did allow drivers choices of lanes, and that resin was also blamed for a wreck that took out several contenders.

So Harvick, who led the final 71 laps, didn't necessarily win in typical Bristol fashion. He didn't celebrate in typical fashion, either. Harvick's car owner and good friend Tony Stewart joined him for a two-car burnout celebration as part of Stewart's final trip to Bristol before hanging up his Sprint Cup drivers suit.

That is part of what made the win special to Harvick. He had not won at Bristol since 2005 and will now go home with a 300-pound trophy that sits on wheels.

"I just won a trophy," Harvick said. "I don't care where it came from, what the situation is."

That is not the typical "night race" winning quotes, because this place has such a cool factor. But amid all the differences of Bristol past, Harvick's message was a familiar one: He took advantage of having the best car late in the race and the opportunity for the win. It's something he hasn't done much this year -- he had not won in the previous 18 races -- and something any driver and team have to do if they want to put themselves in position to win a championship.

Harvick's second win of the season gave Chevrolet just its sixth of 2016. The Fords have six and the Toyotas have 11.

So there's the reason Harvick gets mentioned among title contenders ... but not as the definitive one.

"It's us against us," Harvick said. "That's how we're going to treat it, and if that's not good enough, then we'll go back to the drawing board next year."

That might sound a little cocky, but Harvick typically carries that swagger only when he truly feels that way. He ranked third coming into Bristol in laps and miles led this year. The victory put him back atop the series points standings.

"I think we have a good plan," Harvick said. "I think we have great cars, and we've made a lot of adjustments. ... Hopefully this win and everything getting ready to start with the Chase is going to put all the pieces together, and I think everybody has been working hard to do that."

The weekend didn't start out all that grand. With rain forecast for Friday, the team did not do a mock qualifying run and missed the setup, resulting in Harvick rolling off 24th Saturday night.

"Qualifying in the back kind of motivates me. ... It's kind of exciting," Harvick said. "I like to pass cars. [My crew chief] doesn't really like to do it that way, but I think it's fun to pass cars."

The feel when he rolled off Saturday night did have the Bristol night race aura. The crowd was much larger than it was for the April day race and the buzz generated from a great Xfinity Series race the night before added an extra pulse.

For Harvick, it was a great sight. It was through the suggestions of the NASCAR Drivers Council from meetings in May with Bristol track ownership that the idea of using some sort of sealer was pushed.

"It gave everybody an option to do something different, and as a driver, that's what you want, you want options," Harvick said. "You don't want to get stuck behind a car that's four- or five-tenths [a second per lap] slower than you after you've just run them down from a half a lap and can't pass him."

Kurt Busch blamed hitting the sealer for his wreck. He didn't get into it the right way, causing him to crash in front of the field and taking some strong drivers -- Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Matt Kenseth -- with him. Ironically, Busch was about to be black-flagged by NASCAR for jumping the restart but NASCAR didn't make the ruling before Busch lost it.

It was just one of many ways where drivers lost this race. Denny Hamlin had a speeding penalty before rallying to finish third.

Harvick had no such miscues.

"I'm happy for these guys," Stewart said. "This is a hard place to win at. There are so many things that can go wrong. All it takes is one thing."

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon had hoped to mount challenges in seeking their first wins, but they didn't have enough for Harvick and finished second and fourth, respectively. Chris Buescher finished fifth and vaulted to 30th in the standings, 13 points ahead of David Ragan and in position to use his Pocono win to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup with just three races left in the regular season.

"We've been confident in our cars, just not confident in closing everything out, from myself, to is it ever really going to happen again, and I think that goes away tonight," Harvick said. "You get back into that [groove].

"We know we have fast cars, knowing that you can win again, and it kind of happened that way for us in 2014 at Charlotte when we won [and then won the title], and it just kind of re-instilled that confidence of everything we know we can do, and it finally all just came together."