By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Kevin Harvick and the entire Stewart-Haas Racing squad turned a rather mediocre race by their standards into a respectable outing after finishing fourth in Thursday’s Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway, extending his top-five streak to six consecutive races.
For much of the race, Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang couldn’t match the tremendous pace from Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske drivers. It showed with a seventh and eighth place result during the first two stages.
The final stage is when Harvick began having his moments, beginning on Lap 177. Joey Logano’s left front tire went down on his No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Mustang, forcing him to lift and it led to Harvick running into the back of him. Logano ended up hitting the wall and it led to a multi-car crash that collected Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson in Turn 2.
Several laps later, Harvick and Chase Elliott had a frantic battle that led to Harvick being upset at the Hendrick Motorsports driver as their encounters hasn’t been favorable.
“I’m not sure what we’ve ever done with the 9 but it’s getting a little ridiculous the last few weeks,” Harvick over the radio.
Cautions breed caution in the closing laps and with excellent pit stops, Harvick was suddenly in the race-winning picture with 27 to go. That’s when Harvick had a beautiful jump and squeezed his way from fifth to third.
He then had his eyes set on William Byron for the runner-up spot, but those plans were halted when the 11th and final caution came out for John Hunter Nemechek losing control on the backstretch.
Harvick came up just shy of beating Byron for the second spot. Instead, he had to restart in third coming to the green flag with 22 laps to go. Race Alex Bowman went with the bottom lane and once the action resumed, Harvick gave Bowman multiple taps to get the advantage.
The tap on Bowman set Harvick up for another brilliant pass as his red Mustang went from the bottom to up the middle groove, giving him the momentum to pass Bowman for the race lead.
Once he reached the top lane on the backstretch, Harvick cleared Bowman and for the first time all race, he was out in front as a shot of a 54th career Cup win was in sight.
Then Denny Hamlin entered the battle as his No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, thus the two best drivers of 2020 were battling to become the first five-time winner of the year. However, the raging battle didn’t last as Hamlin proved to be too much for Harvick and with 13 laps remaining, Harvick lost the lead and while he tried fighting back in Turn 3, Hamlin sailed away.
Harvick would lose two more spots to both Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. to finish fourth. Hamlin’s fifth win dropped Harvick to second in the playoff grid with just seven races left in the regular season.
The outcome boiled down to a really loose car and with the final green flag lasting 22 laps, Harvick had hoped for another restart that would’ve given him a decent shot of winning.
“We needed a miracle,” said Harvick. “Our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang was really loose. We got a couple good restarts and had a couple good laps but we were in trouble there regardless if it didn’t just keep going yellow. Our guys did a good job keeping us in the fight all night but we definitely have some work to do.”
While it wasn’t an all around positive night for Harvick, the sixth straight top-five puts him two away from equaling his personal best set in 2014-15 (final three races from ’14 and first five of ’15). Harvick said the key role into his strong outings was definitely his Stewart-Haas Racing pit crew as Thursday also marked his 12th top-five of the year.
“A lot of that just goes to our team. Our pit crew did a great job tonight for keeping us in the game,” said Harvick. “They were making adjustments to the car and gaining spots for the most part on pit road. We stayed in there and dig all night.
“We tried not to make any mistakes when our car is not right. Like it hasn’t been every once in a while and we just stay in there and keep fighting. Hope for good restarts and good pit stops. In the end, you’re around the front and have a good night.”
With the final weeknight race in the books, the 20th Cup Series race of the year will take place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the running of the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301. Live coverage begins on Sunday, August 2 at 3:00 p.m. EST on NBCSN. Harvick is the defending race winner.