The harder the road appears to get for Kevin Harvick toward repeating as Sprint Cup Series champion, the further he continues to advance.
Harvick heads to Phoenix International Raceway next weekend with a chance to clinch a spot in the Sprint Cup Series championship race at Homestead, Fla. That’s certainly not a surprise.
The path Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team have traveled to get to this position has been anything but smooth.
Harvick overcame two punctured tires in Sunday’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and spent the last 100 of 334 laps basically driving his car one-handed as his shifter continued to slip out of gear.
Still, Harvick was able to manage a third-place finish. That combined with a victory at Texas by Jimmie Johnson – who is no longer in title contention – leaves Harvick third in the series standings.
That’s actually a better position for Harvick then when he headed into Phoenix last season which ended with a victory and his first series championship the following week.
“It was interesting to say the least. There were a lot of things that went our way today as far as what could have been damaged from flat tires,” he said of his race. “I have to thank the Hendrick motor shop because I don’t know how the engine didn’t blow up when it popped out of gear.
“We continue to get the job done. This was one day when ‘Never giving up’ definitely paid off.”
Harvick said his right arm continued to get numb holding the shifter as the race wound it done. Former NASCAR driver Mark Martin, watching the race on TV, marveled at Harvick’s ability to drive with one hand.
Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, praised his driver after the race for his quickness in assessing their tire issues and his ability to wheel the car while holding the shifter in place.
“We had that left-rear go down and automatically you panic and think it was self-inflicted like maybe we didn’t have enough air in it, that kind of thing. As soon as I got down off the (pit) box, I saw a piece cut right in the tread. It was probably out of one of the cars that was tore up earlier,” Childers said.
“Then the right-rear tire has a big puncture in it. It was crazy have went the way they have in the Chase for us but Kevin has done an excellent job.”
As Harvick has won the past four Cup races at Phoenix and five of the last six, many consider Harvick to have an excellent chance to add to his victory total and automatically advance to the championship race.
Not so fast, Harvick said.
“Phoenix is a good place for us to go and we’ve been very successful but that doesn’t mean we’re going to go there and run well this time,” he said. “We have to go try to have our ducks in a row.
“We’ve done a good job of managing the Chase this far with all the adversity we’ve had. We’ve really only had one smooth weekend (his win at Dover). Hopefully we’ll have a smooth weekend next week and the week after.”