By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It was the “Kevin Harvick Show” for the first 320 laps, but an unscheduled pit stop changed his entire day and he never regained the lead back.
Instead of celebrating his eighth win of the season, it was a salvageable rally for the spring winner, as he ended up sixth in Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway after leading 286 of 404 laps.
Before making his race-changing stop, Harvick cruised his way towards two stage wins, and had pulled away from his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, who were all running behind him. Then on the 321st lap, Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Outdoors Ford Fusion dove into the pits and his crew changed left side tires.
The costly wound was a result of a lug nut on Harvick’s left rear that knocked the valve stem off, forcing him to pit again. As a result, he was trapped a lap down.
Harvick had to quickly get by notable lapped drivers such as Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch, who was penalized for speeding on pit road. Fortunately, a broken axle by Ross Chastain on Lap 340 brought out a caution, and Harvick was indeed the first car a lap down in 13th. Therefore receiving the free pass which put him back in contention for the win.
However, the progress was slow as the 2014 series champion pick pocketed a few cars, but as the laps were winding down, Harvick was finally in the top-five as his teammate Aric Almirola looked to have had the race won until their teammate Clint Bowyer crashed in Turn 3 on Lap 393.
All remaining SHR drivers pitted where Harvick pitted for two tires and restarted in 11th. Then on the restart, Almirola and Brad Keselowski tangled in Turn 2, starting a five-car crash.
Harvick was running behind Ryan Blaney when he drove down low and barely escaped from running into the back of Alex Bowman. When the race was stopped for the 13th time this season, he was shown in eighth.
Harvick said he was simply lucky to avoid the wreck, and it was about the only high point in his rally.
“We were just lucky there and wound up dodging and weaving and being in the right place,” said Harvick. “Maybe that makes up for the bad luck on losing the race with an absolute dominant car.”
After a dominating day gone wrong, Harvick exited the “Monster Mile” with a less than ideal sixth-place finish, but scored more points than anyone with 51 to race winner Chase Elliott’s 48.
A season-high 25th top-10 puts Harvick 68 points ahead of ninth-place driver Almirola heading into the wild card race at Talladega Superspeedway for the running of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 Oct. 14.
“I would have rather won,” said Harvick on his points cushion heading into Talladega.
“I don’t really care about points. I’d rather win.”
Harvick has seven top-five finishes at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, including a fourth in April, where he led 12 laps and scored his first top-five result at Talladega since April 2011.