Kevin Harvick was poised for a top-five finish in the Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. But rather than contending for the win in the closing laps, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) was hit with a pit road penalty and finished a lap down in 16th place.
“We are lucky to come out of it as good as we did with our Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team,” said Harvick, whose 16th-place result marks just the seventh time he’s finished outside the top-10 in 2015. “We didn’t have a great weekend – a lot of things falling on and off – and now we’ve got to go to Talladega and have a good week. All in all it could have been a lot worse, and everybody kept digging.”
Harvick started the 400-miler strong, grabbing the second position within the opening laps and taking over the lead on lap 28. He gained positions despite a significant vibration that created concern over the engine. During the first caution, however, the team discovered that the weight in the right-rear tire had shifted, creating the problem. A quick change of right-side tires cured the vibration and allowed Harvick to retain the lead when green-flag racing resumed.
As Harvick led the field, a loose-handling condition that he had noted at the beginning of the race intensified. The matter became enough of a challenge that the reigning Sprint Cup Series champ was shuffled from both the lead and then second place on laps 50 and 52. Fortunately, wedge and air pressure adjustments during the second caution on lap 63 worked to shore up the handling, allowing Harvick to continue his drive to the front.
For the next several circuits Harvick raced in the fourth position. He reported around the halfway point that while the car was no longer handling on the loose side it had started getting tight at the exits of the turns. Even though it was enough of a problem to prevent the former Kansas winner from battling the top-three cars for the lead, Harvick continued to be a strong presence on the track in fourth place – a position he seemingly had a lock on as the laps continued to wind down.
What was turning out to be a solid day for the Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team took a drastic turn when, while making a green-flag stop on lap 213 for four tires, a round of chassis adjustments and fuel, the gasman was unable to remove the gas can before the No. 4 car left the designated pit area. The transgression earned Harvick a stop-and-go penalty as green-flag racing continued, and he found himself a lap down in 20th place after serving the penalty.
Making matters worse for the California native, the handle on the shifter broke, making it a challenge to come up through the gears during any subsequent restarts. Harvick battled through the setbacks to make his way to 16th place before the checkered flag waved.