By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
Anytime the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway, one driver immediately comes to mind and that driver is Kevin Harvick.
As the perennial favorite to win on the desert mile, Harvick was a big favorite to win Sunday’s Can-Am 500 and advance to the Championship Four. However, Harvick and his No. 4 team fell short of that goal and were eliminated from the Chase for the first time since the elimination format was implemented.
A 20th place finish at Martinsville followed up by a sixth place finish at Texas left Harvick in a must-win situation on Sunday afternoon at Phoenix, which many thought would be a breeze for the 2014 Cup Series champion. After all, Harvick’s six wins in the previous eight races pointed to Harvick being the man to beat in the Valley of the Sun.
From the start of the race weekend, Harvick seemed to lack the speed that is expected out of his Chevrolet, only cracking the top-10 in one of the three practice sessions and qualifying in sixth place. The speed issues would follow Harvick into Sunday’s race as he would battle handling problems early in the going.
Even though he was having issues early, his team was able to dial the car in as the day progressed and as the checkered flag closed in, Harvick found himself knocking on the door of the top-five and within striking distance of the race lead. With a late caution, Harvick was able to move even closer on the ensuing restart.
Harvick was able to avoid trouble when Alex Bowman and Matt Kenseth got together on the penultimate restart and had his sights set on the lead on the final restart. Using his Phoenix prowess to his advantage, Harvick tried all he could to try and get up to the lead, but was only able to manage a fourth place finish and saw his hopes of a second Cup Series title disappear with it.
“I thought we had a chance and then the 42 kind of dive-bombed everybody down there and really jumbled everything up and allowed the 22 to get away,” Harvick said.
“So that took away any chance we had. All in all, it was a really great effort by our Jimmy John’s/Busch team. Really proud of everybody for the effort that they put in changing the car today. We were off all weekend. Just never had any speed in race trim, never could get the front tires to turn, and the lack of grip up off and they just made some great adjustments during the race to at least get us in the ballpark. We still weren’t right, but we were in the game when it came time for the end.
“That’s all you can ask, just go down swinging, and that’s what we did,”
“It was either feast or famine. We had a lot of mechanical failures and just little things go wrong. I think we had a 37th, a 38th, a 20th, and a 21st or something, so I think as you look at those races, those are just not normal for what we do. They just happen and sometimes you break parts and engines and those things and we’ve had three great years and I’m looking forward to starting a fourth.”