By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
For the past three seasons, Kevin Harvick has been unquestionably the class of the field just about every time the Sprint Cup Series arrives at a race track. That wasn’t the case however this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Harvick started the Coca-Cola 600 from the eighth position, but in the early stages he didn’t look like much of a contender for a win.
After the competition caution at lap 25 though, Harvick did battle his way inside the top-five, but his surge was short lived. Harvick would slide back through the field, and for the majority of the race he hung around the ninth spot, very un-Harvick like.
Around lap 180, Harvick reported that he really was unhappy with the handling of his No. 4 race car. The handling issues would be persistent until his crew chief Rodney Childers made huge sweeping changes during a green flag pit stop on lap 255.
Under this stop, Harvick got four tires, fuel, they made a wedge adjustment and they even added a shim inside the bump stop to keep the front splitter from laying down on the track.
From this point on, Harvick began his rally back to the front.
By lap 340, Harvick found himself in the second spot, but he just couldn’t do anything with Martin Truex Jr. Harvick would come home second, for the 22nd time in the past three seasons, but this time was probably the first time Harvick wasn’t peeved by finishing runner-up.
“We struggled tonight,” Harvick explained. “Our Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was not very good in the first; I would say 450 miles of this particular race. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and everybody on our team did a great job to do whatever they did with the air pressure and just told me it was a really big adjustment. The last couple of runs I got tight. The one run when we had the first air pressure adjustment we were really good. The last two runs I was a little bit tighter once I got up behind those guys, right behind them, I just couldn’t go anywhere. I’m just really proud of the effort to turn the car around. We had a 10th place car and they turned it into a car capable of racing for the win. That is pretty awesome.”
It was a defining night for a team that hasn’t had many struggles since they were brought together in 2014. They showed they are once again championship material by turning a not-so-great race into a respectable finish.
Harvick, who has just one win so far this season, is now your regular-season points leader.
The 2016 lower downforce package was criticized after Truex won the race after leading a NASCAR-record 588 of the 600 miles contested Sunday. According to Harvick, this year’s rules package is still far and away better than what they had to work with a year ago.
“We were able to pass tonight with our car once we got the handling better and make up ground, so I don’t know what the racing was like with the rest of the pack, but I think as you look at what’s coming down the road, I think that the cars were already sliding around a fair amount tonight,” Harvick said. “They seemed like they slid around more tonight than they did actually at the All‑Star Race. But my car had some different balance characteristics tonight than it had at the All‑Star Race. But I think compared to last year, we’re light years ahead of where we were, and I think we’re headed in a great direction with the new package.”
NASCAR of course has tested and will use a package with even less downforce than what has been used so far this season at Michigan and a few other races. It is expected that package will be the baseline for 2017.
Image: Andrew Coppley for Chevy Racing