Kevin Harvick's ability to persevere bodes well for the 2014 title fight.
Kevin Harvick has faced his share of adversity in 2014.
Yes, there have been mechanical failures, a sour engine and issues on pit road.
But on Sunday, his problems at Pocono Raceway were self-induced.
Harvick qualified sixth and finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr., but, oh, what could have been.
The No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Chevy was leading the race when the team elected to make its green-flag pit stop on Lap 96. Undermining a solid strategy, Harvick was busted for speeding as he exited pit road. He served his pass-through penalty on the next lap and dropped to 28th in the field.
Wrong place, wrong time
Harvick was 22nd six laps later. He moved up to 17th by Lap 110, but the early infraction forced Harvick to the back of the pack when Denny Hamlin triggered a 13-car wreck on Lap 117.
“I saw a whole bunch of cars wrecking and we had just got our penalty, so we were in the back of it,” Harvick said. “I just hung a left and I just wasn't expecting a two foot by two foot drain to be a foot down into the ground as I went down through the asphalt.
“As I went through the drain and jumped up out of it, it hung a left to the wall. But I think we had the wreck clear, just timed the drain wrong, I guess.”
I just hung a left and I just wasn't expecting a two foot by two foot drain to be a foot down into the ground as I went down through the asphalt.
Luck was on his side as he avoided the wreck – but Harvick didn’t escape the incident completely unscathed. Harvick’s left front splitter “was gone”, his fenders “caved in onto his tires”.
The good news? The car “was still running fast."
“It wasn't too bad of damage,” Harvick said. “They were able to beat it out and in the end, top it off before we went green there and were able to save a bunch of gas with a bunch of cars that were doing the same thing there at the beginning of that run and in the end saved plenty of gas to be able it a race hard at the end.”
Despite the miscue, Harvick described the race as “fun”. Although his car was “loose, loose, loose, loose,” following the speeding penalty, contact on the left side of the car with the drain, didn’t acerbate the condition.
Harvick credited his Rodney Childers-led crew with keeping the No. 4 Chevy in the game.
When it comes Chase time, it will be the team’s ability to overcome adversity that will determine Harvick’s final outcome in the Sprint Cup championship.
“Today was very important,” Harvick said. “Last week was kind of the same way. We didn't have the car that we wanted, I felt like we had a top three car today, it just, we were going to need track position and things were not really going well.
“They were able to fix the car after we wrecked it. So that's what we talked about as we came back from the break was just scrambling, being able to scramble and get a finish of some sort to get something out of a day.
“So that's what you're going to have to do the last 10 weeks and today we were able to accomplish that and hopefully this is a good sign of things to come.”
That's what we talked about as we came back from the break was just scrambling, being able to scramble and get a finish of some sort to get something out of a day.
The next step
Harvick was a serious contender for the title, long before he officially secured a position in the Chase field on Sunday.
He’s had some of the fastest cars in the field on a weekly basis. His qualifying effort of four poles and a 9.6 average starting position in 2014 has surpassed any season in the 14 years he’s campaigned on the Cup tour. And, his 899 laps led in the first 21 races is also a season best for the driver.
But in order to be one of the four drivers to advance to the final round of the Chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick understands that he and his team will have to be in championship form for the playoffs.
“You're not going to win every race,” Harvick said. “You're going to have days like today where you have to scramble, you're going to have practices where your car is off, you're going to have things that are going to go wrong. On the days when things are right, you need to capitalize on them and win the race.”
On the days when things are right, you need to capitalize on them and win the race.
That's what the best drivers do when it comes time to step up - win. Recent history shows that Harvick must increase his win tally if he wants to add Sprint Cup champion to his resume.
In the last decade, all three champs had at least five wins in their title season. Harvick's boss Tony Stewart won five races in each of the two last seasons when he won the title -- including five Chase events in 2011.The least number of wins Jimmie Johnson has in championship season is also five. And five was the magic number for Brad Keselowski, too.
If Harvick and his team can continue to battle back when it counts -- and live up to his moniker The Closer -- maybe he’ll finally move from the podium to the champion’s table come December.