Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick had problems during Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The first came early in the race when on Lap 36, running second; Harvick cut a left rear tire going through the tri-oval and immediately took the #4 Chevrolet to the apron, bringing out the third caution of the day.
Unlike the earlier Chase contender Joey Logano’s #22 Ford on Lap 9, Harvick’s tire did not explode and caused no damage to the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Harvick was able to bring his car down pit-road to the attention of his pit crew who changed tires and were able to get Harvick back on the track without losing a lap to the leaders.
Upon examination of the tire, crew chief Rodney Childers told Harvick he must have run over a piece of sheet metal from another car, more than likely that of Logano’s #22 Ford. Harvick told his crew there was still debris all over the backstretch and the cleanup crews just blew everything to the bottom of the track.
The #4 Budweiser/ Jimmy John’s Chevrolet popped out of gear as reported about lap 240 of the race forcing Harvick to use one hand to steer and keep his right hand on the shifter handle to prevent the car from popping out of gear.
“It hadn’t missed a gear or jammed a gear or anything like that,” Harvick said of his transmission. “It shifted smooth all weekend. I was just going along like normal. One lap, all of a sudden, it just pops out of gear in the middle of the straightaway. So, I don’t really know. That’s happened to us several times, so we definitely need to figure that out.”
If that wasn’t enough Harvick endured another cut the right rear-tire under green, but just prior to a pit window on lap 281 with 54 laps remaining. Harvick pitted about 15 laps ahead of the rest of the field, once again with a tire that was punctured by sheet metal. As the race stayed green, Harvick cycled to the lead briefly with 36 lap remaining as he was quickly run-down by cars with fresher tires. However as luck would have it the final caution with 24 laps in the race gave the driver of the #4 Chevrolet an opportunity to get get on equal ground with the field.
During the final caution the Stewart-Haas Racing team gave Harvick a bungee cord to use to keep the shifter in place. But he didn’t use it saying, “I never found anything to hook it to. I don’t trust those bungees anyway, I would rather just sit there and hold it and take my chances.”
Harvick has shown why he is a championship contender repeatedly after an eventful 2015 Chase. Contact with Jimmie Johnson at Chicagoland led to a tire rub that resulted in the 42nd finish, at New Hampshire after a dominating performance Harvick ran out of fuel with three laps remaining leading to a must win to advance in the Chase at Dover.
And Harvick did just that, he won at Dover, to remain and advance to the Contender Round of 12 drivers. At Charlotte Harvick dealt with an ill-handling race car to finish second. At Kansas, Harvick received a stop-and-go penalty for taking equipment out of his pit stall, at Talladega his woes continued with a broken exhaust pipe and a sour engine. And Martinsville he had left front fender damage resulting from a pit road incident.
No matter the problems Harvick is a strong contender for the Chase he leaves Texas situated third in the standings going into Phoenix, Harvick has won the past four races and five of the past six. Harvick is the favorite to win at the 1-mile oval. A victory would guarantee him one of the four coveted positions in the finale at Homestead-Miami.