AVONDALE, Ariz. – Congratulations from team owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas on pit road following Sunday’s Round of 8 finale at ISM Raceway completed a roller-coaster ride for Kevin Harvick en route to a Championship 4 bid.
Harvick rallied back from a flat tire early to earn a fifth-place finish in the penultimate race of the season in Phoenix, advancing to the final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by 28 points to join race winner Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.
Harvick faced stiff competition from Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola in the closing lap, but a fourth-place finish for the No. 10 team fell short in a must-win situation.
Although he wore a smile after sealing his fate for next Sunday’s title bout at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick’s description of the day summed up how challenging it was to fight back.
“It’s real-life torture there,” Harvick said. “…Everything that went on today was just crazy, right? We kept ourselves in there and then at the end just put ourselves in a position where there weren’t any cars around anymore and just finish the race.”
Harvick started from the Busch Pole and led the first 72 circuits of Sunday’s Can-Am 500, but a flat tire with two laps remaining in Stage 1 sent the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to pit road prematurely – losing a lap in the process.
Quickly returning to the lead lap as the beneficiary following the race’s second caution, Harvick worked the No. 4 back through the field to earn a fourth-place result in Stage 2.
“There’s nothing you can do about that stuff,” Harvick said. “You just regroup, put four new tires on it and go at it again.”
The focus now shifts to preparation for a run at a second career championship for Harvick, something he will do with interim crew chief Tony Gibson after an L1-level penalty sidelined crew chief Rodney Childers (as well as car chief Robert Smith) for the final two events and a 40-point loss heading into Phoenix.
The penalty makes Sunday’s comeback even more remarkable given he started the race with only a three-point cushion on the cutline.
“I think we have a shot every time we show up,” Harvick said of his chances in South Florida. “Our guys are doing a great job, obviously, to accomplish everything we did this weekend was quite the feat without your crew chief and car chief.”
“Really the biggest thing that Tony (Gibson) brings is just a ton of experience,” he added. “He’s very calm on the pit box, unless he’s winning the Daytona 500. … But for the most part on the radio, he was just dead calm all weekend and just pretty laid back with everything, and everybody just did their jobs.”
Along with his confidence in Gibson, Harvick made note that Childers will play a huge role despite his absence from the pit box in Miami, just as he did this weekend.
“The thing you’ve got to remember is those guys have all been together for five years,” Harvick said. “…The internet works well from Phoenix to North Carolina, as well, too.”