After battling with set up challenges and a slight slip up in qualifying that put the No. 29 Chevy, Kevin Harvick (Bakersfield) started the Sylvania 300 in New Hampshire far into the field.
A race of thirds
Sunday’s race and Harvick’s outlook can be broken into thirds according to lap counts. Early on, Harvick tucked onto the bumper of Jimmie Johnson, who also had a poor qualifying effort. By lap 30, the No. 29 was running in 26th position after an early pit stop for four tires.
On lap 47, Harvick was able to break free from traffic after going three wide with Joey Logano and David Ragan following yet another aggravating pit stop that left Harvick commenting on a pushing condition that had the tires spinning.
“We made two of the worst pit call we could today,” Harvick remarked as a precursor of what was to come.
After a cycle of green flag stops, Harvick’s mood had improved as he commented that the car was “Pretty good now” and had “more grip taking off this time for some reason.” Lap times backed up Harvick’s assessment as her ran a 29.90 after running in the 30.30 range in the first 100 laps.
At lap 121, Harvick was is a hard racing side-by-side battle with Juan Pablo Montoya for 14th that left Harvick frustrated in having to get around stubborn lapped traffic as well. Nine laps later, Harvick was within 0.5 seconds of catching Kyle Busch for 13th position.
It was a debris caution at the halfway point that laid the groundwork for a full meltdown on Harvick’s part. The No. 29 lost five spots in the trip to the pits, leaving Harvick irritated about having to repeatedly having to work to pass the same people all day.
“We’re not gonna win a fricking championship like that,” Harvick fumed. “We gotta get our [stuff] together.”
By lap 200, Harvick had driven up into the top 15, and a lap 207 caution, due to a tire down on the No. 5 of Mark Martin, brought the field in, as well as some reassurance on the radio from team owner, Richard Childress, “You were second to the 33, who was running in his own world for a while. You’re as good. It’s just about track position.” Harvick sounded reassured and positive.
A quick follow up caution on lap 213, for a spin by Deny Hamlin, resulted in the No. 29 team’s fuel strategy going forward. “Save all you can, but we’d need to have a ton of cautions,” Childress stated on the radio after noting that the No. 31 and No. 33 were going to go for it.
Harvick took charge with the quote of the day, “You can’t win it [the Championship] on the first one, but you sure can lose it.”
“I’ll make it easy for you. I’m not even saving any fuel,” Harvick warned crew chief, Gil Martin.
The change in mindset was evident as Harvick restarted in 13th and avoided the spin by Kurt Busch directly in front of him on lap 222 leaving him in tenth position.
While Tony Stewart and teammates Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton stayed out, Harvick came in for fuel only. After restarting in 12th, the No. 29 was running in seventh place after 20 laps. In the remaining 50 laps, Harvick was able to move up into fifth after the fuel ran out in the No. 14 and No. 31.
The meltdown by Harvick may have been a coping mechanism for the driver who was dealing with the stress of having led the points for most of the season and who was facing a drop from the third spot to the eighth position at one point in the race. Ultimately, Harvick held court in the third position for the Chase standings with a fifth place finish at New Hampshire.
For more information on Southern California Motorsports, check out:
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- Kevin Harvick stakes claim to NASCAR Chase in Michigan
Janelle Jalbert is a fan of a variety of racing formats and equally enjoys the history of the sport. Janelle grew up in an auto mechanic’s family and swears that there is carb spray running through her veins.
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