Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), came painfully close to earning his third victory of the season in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355k at The Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
Harvick, who had last pitted at lap 51, led the final 29 of 30 laps before running out of fuel just one turn away from the checkered flag. He crossed the start/finish line in third place, earning his third top-five in 15 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course. It was also his 15th top-five this season.
“I’m sorry about that, guys,” Harvick said. “I thought I’d done a pretty good job of saving fuel under the caution. Really, I was just running as fast as I needed to, to protect the lead there as I was in front of the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth). And once the No. 22 (Joey Logano) got there, I had to pick up the pace just a little bit.
“But all in all, our Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team did a great job today and we were in position to have a win; two corners away. But that’s just kind of how the middle of this season has gone. We’ve had really fast cars, but the circumstances have just gotten the best of us. So, hopefully we’re saving that up for the last 10 weeks.”
Harvick started the 90-lap road course race in fourth and moved into second place at lap 22. Harvick told his crew that his No. 4 car was a little free off, so when the caution flag waved at lap 26, the Budweiser/Jimmy John’s crew took the opportunity to pit for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment to improve the car’s balance.
With different pit strategies playing out, Harvick restarted the race at lap 28 in the 10th position. By lap 37, he had picked up three spots and was in seventh place. Ten laps later, when the caution flag waved again at lap 47 and the majority of the cars on the lead lap pitted, crew chief Rodney Childers elected for Harvick to stay out.
But a wreck on the restart at lap 50 led to another caution flag. Childers brought Harvick down pit road under the caution at lap 51 for four tires and fuel. Harvick restarted the race at lap 55 in the 23rd spot. Childers told his driver that he was two laps short on fuel and to save fuel.
“Save, save, save” would be the most common refrain on the radio for the remainder of the race.
A caution at lap 58 helped Harvick to save some fuel, but he still needed help to be able to make it to the end of the race. Harvick moved into the second spot under the caution as the majority of the cars in front of him pitted. Childers told his driver to fight for all he could on the restart, as clean air would help him to save fuel even more.
When the green flag waved to restart the race at lap 60, Harvick wasted no time getting around then-leader Kenseth. Harvick was the race’s new leader at lap 61, and he stayed up front until the final corner of the 90-lap race.
“I have the best team on pit road. Our cars are faster than pretty much everybody else’s every week,” Harvick said. “The circumstances have definitely bit us quite a few times. But all in all, if you have the fastest car and you keep running in the top-five and leading laps, eventually you’re going to wear them down.”Harvick’s race-high 29 laps led brings his season total to 1,391 laps led. Harvick has only led more laps than that in a single season once – in 2014 when he led 2,137 laps en route to the Sprint Cup championship. He has led a lap in 18 of the 22 Sprint Cup races contested in 2015.