Harvick, who moved into contention when Busch was penalized for pitting too soon midway through the 90-lap race, passed Tony Stewart with three laps to go Sunday and won the caution-plagued AMD at The Glen.
It was Harvick's first road win and his second victory of the year driving for resurgent Richard Childress Racing. And it was stunning because Stewart had won three of the previous four races here.
"I knew my only shot to get him back was getting into (Turn) 1," said Harvick, who moved up one spot to third in the points standings. "I knew I was only going to have a couple of chances, so I took my chance, it stuck, and I went on by."
The pass was made coming out of 11th turn. Harvick outbraked Stewart through the turn, edged past him on the front straightaway and completed the pass entering the first turn, a 90-degree right-hander. He then pulled away over the final two laps over the 11-turn, 2.45-mile layout.
"I think I just overdrove the entries and exits, and he was good," said Stewart, who moved up two spots to seventh in the points race.
The race changed midway on an error by Busch's crew. Joe Nemechek spun off course and brought out a caution for debris. Busch, with instructions from crew chief Roy McCauley, entered the pits for tires and fuel in what would be his last stop. But he crossed the commitment line a split second before the pits opened and was forced to go to the rear of the field on the restart.
"Kurt, I don't know what to say. I'm about in tears," McCauley said over the radio. "I'm sorry, Kurt."
"I think I'm OK," Busch said.
He was, but not for long. Seconds after the race restarted, Busch was caught in a multicar crash that also involved Matt Kenseth. Busch's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge sustained front-end damage, and his chances for a victory vanished for good.
"We put ourselves in position for NASCAR to make a call, and it didn't end up in our favor," said Busch, who rallied into the top 10 but spun out on the final lap and finished 19th. "We're going to stand here and discuss it, but it doesn't do any good now."
The top 10 drivers in the standings qualify for the 10-race Chase, now in its third year. And Busch, 13th and fighting for the last spot with Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr., appeared set to make a big jump. Instead, he remained 13th, 172 points behind Earnhardt, who remained 10th after an 18th-place finish.
The top 10 in the standings will be reset in four weeks -- after the 26th race of the season -- into five-point intervals. Those 10 drivers will then race for the Nextel Cup title over the final 10 races of the season.
Busch, fresh from his stirring victory over Robby Gordon in Saturday's Busch Series race at The Glen, began from the pole. And he was the class of the field from the start, leading 36 of the first 53 laps.
Neither Jeff Gordon, Stewart, nor Robby Gordon, who had combined to win 16 of the previous 18 races on NASCAR's two road courses, had anything for Busch in the first half of the 220.5-mile race.
Stewart ran second much of the time, and every time there was a caution, Busch had a rearview mirror full of Stewart's bright-orange Chevrolet. But Stewart, one of the best in Cup on restarts, was unable to snooker Busch on three tries.
"You feel for Kurt today," Stewart said. "He had a car that was capable of winning the race. That's absolutely rotten, terrible luck right there."
Harvick, who pitted just before the crucial caution, gained the lead when Stewart and the rest of the leaders pitted the next time around and led the next 23 laps.
"You're gambling on the caution," said Todd Berrier, crew chief for Harvick's No. 29 Chevrolet. "That's all you're doing. We would have liked to have stopped sooner, but the way the race had been going, all the cautions, we stuck to the plan. More times than not it don't work when you stick to the plan.
"As soon as the caution came out, it put us in the top three," Berrier said. "Stewart and Robby and all those guys got back in the pack and it took them a long time to get back up there."
Stewart had been unable to track down Harvick during the previous green-flag run. But when Casey Mears spun out to bring out a caution with 11 laps left, it gave Stewart a chance.
Harvick, making his 200th career start, got away on the restart. But Stewart caught him entering the chicane, driving by hard on the outside when Harvick threw a block inside, and easily took the top spot. Seconds later, the 10th caution of the race set up the five-lap shootout that Harvick won.
"At the end, on even tires, we were just as good as Stewart, but it (beating him) was a really hard thing to do," Berrier said. "He's obviously really good at these places. It's a pretty good accomplishment."