By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
As Joe Gibbs Racing ended Saturday’s Drydene 311 with a 1-2-3 finish, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was indeed “best of the rest” at Dover International Speedway as he crossed the line in fourth for his 16th top-five of the year.
Harvick’s championship rival Denny Hamlin went on to equal him in race wins at six apiece. Meanwhile, Harvick struggled with a very tight No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang throughout the first leg of the Dover doubleheader that kept him from truly fighting with the JGR trio of Hamlin, Martin Truex, Jr., and Kyle Busch.
“I wasn’t very good all day. Overall, our Mobil 1 Mustang just never would turn and then we got it so it wouldn’t turn and too loose,” said Harvick. “We had trouble on pit road and had to come back in at one point, but everybody kept battling and doing everything that they could and wound up with a top five.”
That woeful moment in the pits took place under the competition caution where he had to make two pit stops due to a loose left rear tire, relegating him to 29th on the restart.
No problem for the six-time Cup winner as he gained an outstanding 22 spots to get seventh in Stage 1. It included a daring “take no prisoners” charge from 10th to 7th in the closing laps as he navigated by Jimmie Johnson, Chris Buescher and Matt Kenseth at the exit of Turn 3.
For the remainder of the race, Harvick had a rather rare race where he wasn’t a front runner due to handling issues. Among the things reported was his Mustang pushing “like a dump truck” and drove worse in the corners. Despite those concerns, Harvick stayed inside the top half dozen, headlined with a sixth-place outing in Stage 2.
Throughout the final stage, Harvick went from tight to loose, especially when his No. 4 machine held on for dear life on the backstretch with 68 laps remaining. Up to that point, he was running in sixth with pole sitter Chase Elliott hot on his tails.
Several laps later, Harvick was hunting down Brad Keselowski but had to make his last stop on Lap 252. By being on the first ones to pit, he gained two spots once everything cycled through with 30 laps to go where he ended up staying there when he took the checkered flag.
“We could not get the front of our car to turn up off the corner and at the end it started just sliding the back everywhere and it wouldn’t turn off the corner, so we definitely have some work to do,” Harvick on his afternoon. “The guys did a great job hanging in there and battling back through all the adversity today, but definitely not where we wanted to be.”
Due to the outcome of the race, Harvick didn’t clinch the regular season championship as his 118-point lead dropped to 100. However, he could clinch top honors after tomorrow’s 311-lap race (4:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN) where he’ll roll off 17th. All he’ll need to do is either score a seventh win or be ahead of Hamlin by 61 points to earn those 15 valuable playoff points.