Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished ninth in Monday’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. A pit-road penalty and varying strategies hindered Harvick from contending for the win in the closing laps of the 400-mile event.
Rain covered the track and surrounding areas throughout the day on Sunday, forcing NASCAR to postpone the race to Monday afternoon. A solid practice on Saturday had Harvick and company looking forward to racing on Monday – a day in which the racing conditions would closely mirror those that existed during the lone practice on Saturday.
It was during the competition caution on lap 15 that the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion experienced his first setback of the race when he was served a speeding penalty while coming down pit road for service. After stopping for four tires, fuel and minor adjustments, Harvick restarted in 35th place and quickly started making his way back to the front of the field, taking over 15th place on lap 36 and then joining the top-10 by lap 48.
The Bakersfield, California, native even took a turn at the top spot beginning on lap 54 when green-flag pit stops began. The team had hoped to be able to make its own stop during green-flag conditions and cycle through amongst the leaders, but an ill-timed caution on lap 59 worked to the detriment of that plan. Instead of being firmly planted in the top-five after a trip to pit road, Harvick was in 12th for the restart on lap 65. His quick racecar negated the setback, however, and by lap 80 Harvick was running comfortably in fourth place.
While the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevy was fast, it was not without issue, as Harvick noted at different points of the race the car seemed to trend toward the tight side, particularly when buried in traffic. Crew chief Rodney Childers called for various chassis and air pressure adjustments throughout the race, and the car continued to show speed.
During what wound up being the last pit stop of the race, the team was dealt the blow that would ultimately prevent Harvick from finally crossing the 2.5-mile triangle from the list of tracks at which he has yet to win in Sprint Cup Series competition.
Harvick brought the No. 4 Chevy to the attention of the team during the ninth caution for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. A number of teams, however, elected to either make fuel-only or two-tire stops. Those varying strategies resulted in Harvick going from sixth place prior to the stop to 23rd for the restart on lap 122. With 38 laps to go in the race, the team had Harvick bring the No. 4 car back to pit road to top off the fuel should the event go into NASCAR’s version of “overtime.” Despite the setback, Harvick made the most of those final laps, racing his way back into the top-10 and finally to ninth place by the time the checkered flag waved.