By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Kevin Harvick has come close to winning at Kentucky Speedway over the years only to fall short in the end and Sunday’s Quaker State 400 was yet another example of how elusive a victory at the 1.5-mile track has been for the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Coming into the race with the momentum of two wins in the two weeks prior, Harvick would be looking to finally get the monkey off his back at Kentucky, but despite his third-place start, handling issues quickly came into play and would plague Harvick and his No. 4 team for much of the day.
Harvick reported issues with the front end of his car chattering in the first stage, which he finished in sixth place. After adjustments, Harvick’s handling woes got worse in the second stage, falling further and further back in the running order.
“Just zero grip,” Harvick radioed to his crew. “Everything we did is just terrible. It was bad, now it’s just worse. Just loose in the corner now and plowing.”
By the time the second stage ended, Harvick would be scored in 22nd, a far cry from where he started the day.
In the final stage, Harvick was able to stay out on track a bit longer than the leaders during a cycle of green flag pit stops, advancing up to second place before the caution fell on lap 230, when Harvick made his way to pit road.
Two additional cautions on lap 245 and 250 allowed Harvick to take advantage of the restarts, moving into the lead for the first time over Martin Truex Jr., with the two distancing themselves from the field and preparing to settle the race among themselves as the laps wound down.
As Harvick and Truex were dueling it out for the lead, the final caution of the day came out at lap 262, setting up a final two lap shootout to the finish.
Harvick and Truex fired off quickly on the final restart, with the two pulling even through Turns 1-2 and Harvick getting the advantage down the backstretch. After clearing Truex’s car by mere inches, the two made contact, sending Harvick down the track and allowing Truex to get back by before they pulled even once again through Turns 3-4.
While Truex and Harvick were jostling for position, Ryan Blaney was able to maneuver his Ford underneath them, with Cole Custer making it four wide heading across the stripe to take the white flag.
Blaney, who was running down on the apron of the track, hit a drain in the asphalt, shooting his car up the track into Harvick. The contact would cause a heavy tire rub on Harvick’s car as white smoke poured off the rear end entering Turn 1.
Harvick would be able to keep control of his car and maintained speed for the remainder of the lap, but his shot at the win was gone as his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Custer went on to score the win and he would cross the line in fourth place.
“I just want to thank everybody from Stewart-Haas Racing and everybody from Hunt Brothers Racing,” said Harvick. “Our Ford Mustang was not very good today, but we got a good break with the caution. I had a couple good restarts there and got the car better, but still just not where we needed to be.
“The restarts worked out in our favor and we were able to get the lead and Martin just misjudged there on the backstretch and got me sideways. I got out of the gas and that just brought everybody into the picture and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway here and the 12 hit the drain and came up and hit the side of the car and then i couldn’t see, so, yeah, it got wild and that’s what you’re supposed to do.
“I’m just really happy for Cole Custer and everybody on the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford Mustang. That’s pretty cool to get your first win. As much as I would have loved to win, I’m glad that we kept it in the company.”
While Harvick will have to wait until 2021 to try and check Kentucky off the list, later this year, he has a chance to add a win at the only other track besides Kentucky he has yet to win at — the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.