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Kyle Busch rallies for Michigan top five after near-brush with Kevin Harvick

Kyle Busch’s hopes for a breakthrough victory in this star-crossed 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season seemed so close Saturday at Michigan International Speedway — as close as the paper-thin distance between his car and Kevin Harvick’s in their late-race contest at the front of the pack.

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Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota drifted up the track near the Turn 4 retaining wall as Harvick grabbed the lead for the final time in the 148th of 161 laps in the FireKeepers Casino 400. Busch recovered after sliding back to ninth place, rallying to a fifth-place result at the checkered flag.

Replays showed no contact between the cars of Harvick and Busch, but their cozy proximity upset the aerodynamic balance of Busch’s No. 18. Busch blurted out some angst-heavy profanity over the team communications but was more measured post-race about the run-in.

“I don’t know. Definitely got loose. Don’t know whether it was contact or just air,” said Busch, who led four laps as he secured his ninth top-five finish of the season. “Definitely got loose and had to chase it and catch it. Thankfully, kept it out of the fence. We were able to salvage a fifth. Felt like we had a good second-place car today. The M&M’s Fudge Brownie Toyota Camry was fast. Just nowhere near his level of fast.”

As Busch was regaining ground amongst the top 10, Harvick sailed away to his fifth win of the season. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver said he couldn’t tell if he had initiated contact until seeing a video replay.

“Yeah, I didn’t touch him,” Harvick said as he watched NBC Sports’ footage in Victory Lane. “Well, that makes me feel better because I knew we had a fast enough car to just pass him, but I knew that I need to take the opportunity that I had, and I needed to side draft right there, so that video makes me feel better.”

Busch started seventh and finished among the points-earners in both stages, praising crew chief Adam Stevens’ adjustments after an early pit stop. But his winless streak to start the season hit 21 races, a drought dating back to his championship-clinching victory last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Busch gets another chance to end the dry spell in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) in the second leg of Michigan’s Cup Series weekend doubleheader.

“We definitely didn’t have the speed we needed but had a good balanced car, good driving car and hopefully we can work on it a little bit tonight and get it better for tomorrow,” said Busch, who is set to start 16th Sunday. “Just need to be better in traffic and be able to maneuver and be able to pass just a bit more.”