Harvick Finishes Sixth, and Keeps Championship Hopes Alive After a race filled with intensity and drama up until the checkered flag waved, Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil team from Richard Childress Racing kept their championship...
Harvick Finishes Sixth, and Keeps Championship Hopes Alive
After a race filled with intensity and drama up until the checkered flag waved, Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil team from Richard Childress Racing kept their championship hopes alive with a sixth-place finish on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. The Bakersfield, Calif., driver now trails the point leader, Denny Hamlin, by 46 points with just one race remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The effort was the team's 25th top-10 finish of the year, three more than any other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitor.
On Friday at the one-mile oval in the Arizona desert, the Gil Martin-led team started the day's lone practice in race trim before switching over to qualifying trim in the second half of the session. Harvick posted the ninth-fastest lap among 46 competitors, and he followed that up by qualifying 29th for Sunday's 312 miler.
NASCAR scheduled two practice sessions on Saturday, and the team worked on two different setups throughout the day. Harvick posted the 10th and fifth-fastest laps, respectively, in the practice sessions, and the team was confident as they prepared for Sunday's event.
Chamber of commerce weather greeted the estimated 75,000 fans on Sunday, and Harvick took the green flag from the inside of row 15. In the opening stages of the race, the 14-time NSCS winner fought a loose-handling Chevy, especially on the exit of the corners. Despite the loose condition, Harvick motored his way inside the top 20 on lap 13, and cracked the top 15 on lap 23.
While Harvick was running 13th, a caution flag waved on lap 59 for an incident with the No. 12 car. Harvick took the opportunity to enter pit road for fresh tires and a chassis adjustment. Quick work by the RCR crew netted them one spot, and Harvick left the pits in 12th.
The green flag was displayed on lap 65, and Harvick took care of his car while letting the air pressure build in his Goodyear tires. He entered the top 10 for the first time at the lap-100 mark, but his car was too tight in the center of the corners, and loose off.
Despite the handling issues, Harvick continued his ascent up the leaderboard. He raced his way to sixth when routine green-flag pit stops began around lap 169. Martin instructed Harvick to pit on lap 170 for fresh tires, fuel and another chassis adjustment. Once the pit stops cycled through, the No. 29 was scored fifth.
The changes helped and the RCR machine climbed to fourth on lap 200. Another caution flag for debris bunched the field on lap 222, and again the Shell-Pennzoil team changed tires, added fuel, and made another chassis adjustment. Unfortunately, even though Harvick left pit road in fourth, a missing lugnut on the left-rear tire forced the team to pit a second time. The team lost valuable track position, and once the race resumed, the No. 29 Chevrolet was scored 18th.
The No. 29 team dug deep and showed tremendous resolve over the last 85 laps of the 312-lap event. Martin and team owner, Richard Childress, came over the radio and offered encouragement to Harvick and the No. 29 team members. The whole team took their words to heart and turned the negative issue into a positive result.
The race's final caution flag waved on lap 233, and Martin told Harvick they could make it to the end of the race on fuel if they pitted, so the Bakersfield, Calif., native pitted for tires and fuel. The top seven cars stayed out, and Harvick left pit road in 16th.
Armed with fresh tires and a full tank of fuel, Harvick drove like a man on a mission. He picked off several cars, and while running ninth with 15 laps to go, several of the leaders had to pit for fuel. In the final few laps, Harvick passed three more cars and crossed the finish line in sixth, just inches behind Jimmie Johnson.
Carl Edwards scored the victory, and was followed by Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Johnson. Harvick's RCR teammates, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer, finished 19th and 21st, respectively.
NASCAR's premier division travels to Florida next week for the running of the Homestead 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway. Live coverage of the race begins Sunday, November 21 at 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and will be telecast on ESPN. The event will also be broadcast live on the Motor Racing Network and Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Qualifying for the 36th and final points-paying race will be broadcast live on ESPN2 Friday, November 19, beginning at 3 p.m. EST and can be heard worldwide on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.
HOW RELIEVED ARE YOU TO BE IN THIS POSITION AFTER THE DAY YOU HAD?: "We're just lucky to be honest with you. These guys on pit road, they do a great job and just made a mistake. I was pretty down and thought, 'there it went.' Richard (Childress, team owner) and Gil (Martin, crew chief) just said, 'keep at it, you never know what's going to happen.' Then they told me I could make it on gas, and the car just didn't handle very well in traffic. Once we were towards the front, it was handling pretty well. We dodged one for sure and still have a chance next week so that's all you can ask for."
HOW DOES THE SHOWDOWN FOR HOMESTEAD FEEL?: "I will take these guys up against anybody. I never said a word about anything on the pit stop because they've done such a good job over the last four weeks, and we just have to keep doing that. Our car will be fast next week, it was fast this week -- not quite as good as the 99 (Carl Edwards) or the 11 (Denny Hamlin), but we never really got to restart up there with them. I just have to thank Richard and Gil for keeping me pumped up after I got a little down, and we hung with them."
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO IN HOMESTEAD?: "We just have to be aggressive. That's been a great race track, statistically, for us. It's our best race track on the circuit, so we're looking forward to it."