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Harvick’s first race at COTA leads to top-five Xfinity finish

AUSTIN, Texas — Kevin Harvick called himself a 45-year-old rookie in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

That’d normally be seen as a stretch — considering his 2006 title, 47 career wins and 347 overall starts in the Xfinity Series — but perhaps not this weekend at the Circuit of The Americas. Harvick had never stepped foot on the 3.41-mile road course based in Austin, Texas, before Friday’s practice. He then competed in his first race Saturday, the Pit Boss 250.

“I’m not top-end ready compared to some of those good guys,” Harvick said. “But I can survive and not make a fool of myself now.”

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He’s talking about Sunday’s EchoPark Texas Grand Prix for the Cup Series, where he competes full-time — another reason the rookie comment is normally brushed off.

And Harvick was at least top-five ready in the Xfinity Series race, finishing fourth as fellow Cup Series regular Kyle Busch went on to take the checkered flag. The victory marked Busch’s series-best 98th.

Other Cup Series full-timers in the Xfinity Series field included Cole Custer (seventh), Tyler Reddick (eighth), Austin Dillon (13th) and Ross Chastain (30th).

AJ Allmendinger (second), Austin Cindric (fifth) and Justin Haley (ninth) are also entered into the Cup Series event.

“There were another couple of fast guys out there that will be a force to be reckoned with tomorrow,” Busch said. “But overall excited about today. Cool to win, and let’s see what tomorrow brings.”

Well, first, there’s qualifying at 11 a.m. ET. The race is then scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET. Both will air live on FS1.

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Sunday’s main event will be a 68-lap showdown for a total of 231 miles around the 20-turn circuit.

“Probably the most difficult part for me is Turn 2,” Harvick said, “and carrying enough speed from Turn 2 to Turn 3, knowing how fast you can go into Turn 3 and not screw up 4, 5, 6 and 7.”

Turn 2 goes downhill. Turn 3 then starts the three-turn esses portion of the circuit, which is basically a set of soft but quick left-right-left turns. Turn 6 is then sweeping right-hander, followed immediately by a left-hand corner for Turn 7.

Basically speed control off of Turn 2, like Harvick explained, dictates success through the following swivels.

Rain is in the forecast, but that may actually be something to not take seriously. It was supposed to rain during the Xfinity Series race, and didn’t.

“Doesn’t matter now,” Harvick said. “I practiced in the wet, qualified in the wet, so we’ll just go out there and sling it.”