HOMESTEAD, Fla. – A car built for the short runs was Kevin Harvick’s downfall in his quest for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang rocketed forward on restarts during the Ford EcoBoost 400, but faded as the runs wore on longer and wasn’t able to be a factor during a 101-lap run to the finish.
That left the 2014 Cup Series champion and crew chief Rodney Childers no choice but to try a strategy ploy and stay out long on the final round of green flag pit stops, waiting all the way until lap 223 to come down pit road in the hopes that nearly 20-lap fresher tires would make a difference down the stretch.
Unfortunately for Harvick, those hopes never came true and he was forced to rally from a lap down inside the final 45 laps, getting back to fourth on-track but still ending up 14 seconds adrift of race winner and champion Kyle Busch at the checkered flag.
Ending up third in the season standings, Harvick noted afterward that his team’s only shot was to do the opposite of what Busch did from the lead, as he wasn’t going to be the No. 18 on sheer speed.
“We just needed to do something different,” he said. “Those guys, they were so much better than us on the long run. Our best chance was to have a caution there at the end, and we never got one. We just did something different hoping for a caution, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in those late situations like that, is to do the opposite of the cars you’re trying to race.
“It just didn’t work out.”
Harvick ended his year with four wins, 15 top fives and 26 top 10s in 36 races, with his fifth Championship 4 appearance in the last six years and his 10th straight top-10 finish in points.
However, that didn’t take the sting out of Sunday’s final result, with Harvick playing toward a sprint to the finish that never materialized and disappointed he wasn’t able to better contend for a second title.
“On the restarts, I could do what I wanted to do, and I could hold them off for 15 or 20 laps,” Harvick said. “This race has come down to that (type of a run) every year, so you kind of play towards that as a team. They (Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin) were quite a bit better than us on the long run, but we had a really good car for those first 15 or 20 laps on the restarts and had a lot of speed.
“We just never got to try to race for it there with a caution. It’s a bummer, for sure, but we’ll be back.”