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Harvick falters in Texas, long shot to win title

November 07, 2011, Dave Rodman,

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Thirteenth-place finish leaves RCR driver 33 points behind Edwards

Kevin Harvick's crew chief Gil Martin glanced over his shoulder Sunday night and promised "these guys have still got a lot of fight left in 'em" after his bunch could only deliver a 13th-place finish in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Harvick faces a nearly insurmountable deficit to winning his first Sprint Cup championship -- 33 points to leader Carl Edwards and 30 to second place Tony Stewart, who won Sunday -- with only two races left in the season.

""Not really [the run I imagined]. I mean, if we just ran it straight out, we probably could have run seventh or eighth if we didn't take two [tires] on that last green-flag stop with, whatever, 38 [laps] to go. We got two tires and it just didn't work out for us."


But there's no telling what Harvick thinks.

Harvick appeared to say nothing on his in-car radio after the checkered flag fell. After parking his car behind the team's transporter in the Sprint Cup garage area, Harvick got out and quickly walked down the alley between his truck and Brad Keselowski's, toward a back gate into the driver/owner motorhome compound.

Harvick had reason to be frustrated as his finish was the latest misstep in the final 10 races. It leaves him in a chasm that the statistics show little hope of escaping. In the past 10 races, Harvick's average finish is 9.2, to 5.2 for Edwards and 6.9 for Stewart.

Harvick has a win, to none for Edwards and four for Stewart; but in the other key categories, top-five and top-10 finishes, Harvick trails the lead pair in both: seven-five-three in top-fives and nine-eight-seven in top-10s.

In the most critical category, head-to-head performance, Harvick has only beaten Edwards three times in the past 10 races and Harvick has only beaten Stewart four times in the same stretch. In the past 10 races, Harvick has a net point loss of 41 to Edwards and 24 to Stewart.

Sunday's high-speed affair in Texas epitomized Harvick's despair. He started the worst, 21st, of the three title contenders and was out-performed all day. Race winner Stewart was never scored out of the top five at any of NASCAR's 20-lap scoring check points. Edwards was never listed out of the top 10.

Harvick made it into the top 15 by the 20-lap mark, but he was scored in the top 10 at only six of the race's 17 check points. Harvick had scored top-10 finishes in four of his past six Texas starts, but he's only led one lap in his past 10 starts.

Still, the finish was far from what crew chief Martin had expected.

"Not really [the run I imagined]," Martin said. "I mean, if we just ran it straight out, we probably could have run seventh or eighth if we didn't take two [tires] on that last green-flag stop with, whatever, 38 [laps] to go. We got two tires and it just didn't work out for us."

Harvick was running seventh when he pitted for the final time. He'd spent 100 laps of check points no lower than 11th.

"But we had to try something and hope the car would come around and maybe we could steal a top-five finish right there," Martin said. "That's what we had, about an eighth-place car [Sunday], which is not horrible, but it's not what we needed.

"We gambled right there trying to steal a top-five and it didn't work, so it probably cost us six or seven points. If it works we gained a few points. It is what it is."

Timing might have been everything, because Kasey Kahne pitted later, took two tires and was able to come forward at the end, to finish third behind Stewart and Edwards.

"I think seven cars in front of us -- Carl and Tony, four or five others -- took two [tires]," Kahne said. "We came out eighth just because of that, seemed like two tires were pretty good -- [it] wasn't a huge advantage to have four like I thought it might be."

Martin was desperate to make something happen after the first two days of the weekend didn't exactly forecast this result.

"We just didn't have the early speed [in a run]," Martin said. "We were good after like 15 or 20 laps, but we just didn't have any early speed like we needed. Other than that, it was good. The pit crew did good -- everybody [did].

Kevin Harvick

2011 Chase
New Hampshire122

"It was good, we just didn't have early speed and I don't know why. We had it on Saturday in practice and didn't have it [Sunday]."

It leaves Phoenix, next weekend's venue, as the best hope for the lone RCR team in the Chase. Phoenix has been repaved and reconfigured since last spring's event and Harvick's performance there at a recent test leaves Martin thinking they'll escape their doldrums before the series goes to Homestead, Fla., for the season finale.

"We deal with [tracks changing] every week, because there are so many variables every week in everything that we do," Martin said. "It's just part of it. But hey, stranger things have happened -- we're definitely not going to give up.

"I mean, [13th] is not what we needed. We needed to come out of here gaining seven, not losing seven, or however-many we lost, I don't even know. Whatever the case may be, it's not what we needed and we'll continue to do the best we can do."

Harvick swept Phoenix in 2006, and he was fourth and sixth in his past two starts there. Though the track is radically different, Harvick seems to like it so far.

"We left [Phoenix] with the best car there at the test," Martin said. "I think we were second on qualifying runs and best on race trim. I know Goodyear's done some stuff to the track, to probably change it a little bit, trying to rubber it down, but heck, we're going to go there and race the hell out of 'em -- it's all we can do."

And that's enough for Edwards, who refuses to write-off any of the nine Chase contenders that haven't been mathematically eliminated, as Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman have.

"I refuse to count anyone out," Edwards said. "I think from what you saw go on this weekend with everything -- including the Truck race, NASCAR making rulings, things happening -- literally anything can happen in this sport. Until somebody is mathematically out of it, I can't let myself count them out."

Martin, who said there was no need for special team meetings or anything else out of the ordinary this week, is right in step with Edwards.

"The [Phoenix] cars are already here [brought on a separate transporter to switch to the primary race hauler]," Martin said. "We got what we feel like's the best piece going there and what we feel like's the best piece going to Homestead and like I say, we're not going to give up.

"These other two guys [Edwards and Stewart] are going to race each other to death and anything can happen. And if something does happen, we're going to be there to capitalize."

Watch Harvick's highlights from Texas: