Saturday, August 17, 2019

CUP: Kevin Harvick completes fourth-most laps of a Bristol last-place finisher in dramatic duel with Austin Dillon

Kevin Harvick picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol at the Bristol Motor Speedway when his #4 Busch Beer Ford fell out with clutch issues after 244 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in Harvick’s 670th start, was his first of the season and first since May 27, 2018 at Charlotte, 47 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 41st for the #4, the 41st for clutch issues, and the 695th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 65th for clutch issues, the 67th for the #4, and the 956th for Ford.

The only other time Harvick was featured on this website turned out to be one of only a few setbacks during a strong 2018 season. He scored eight victories that year, though the last at Texas turned out to be the final “encumbered” finish before NASCAR brought back disqualifications. No one knew at the time that race would begin a puzzling losing streak that continued through his championship loss to Joey Logano and the first 19 races of this season. The streak finally ended at Loudon, where he held off a spirited charge by Denny Hamlin, and just last Sunday he scored a second victory with an economy run at Michigan.

At Bristol, where his most recent of two wins came in 2016, Harvick started the weekend 14th in opening practice and 20th in Happy Hour. He improved in qualifying to take 8th on the grid with a speed of 128.434mph (14.940 seconds), second among Fords to his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola in 5th.

Meanwhile, taking the 39th and final starting spot was Ross Chastain, who two days earlier finished 3rd in the Playoff opener for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Chastain was again in Premium Motorsports’ #15 Chevrolet with new sponsorship from the Chantz Scott Auto Group. During the pace laps, he was joined by teammate Quin Houff in the #27 Premium Motorsports Chevrolet as Houff surrendered the 34th spot to pull to the outside of the row in front, 38th on the grid.

When the race started, there was a scramble in the outside lane, and at one point, Houff’s car skated up the track just as it had last week in Michigan. Houff briefly held last the first time by, then worked his way past the #00 Permatex Chevrolet of Landon Cassill. It was Cassill who was last by Lap 7, and it was he who became the first car one lap down on Lap 13 when Denny Hamlin worked past him in the high lane in Turn 3. Cassill held the spot until Lap 37, when Cassill raced past former teammate Kyle Weatherman, Bayley Currey’s relief driver in the #52 Belmont Classic Cars Chevrolet.

The night’s first accident threw in a new contender. On Lap 80, Austin Dillon blew a right-front tire in Turn 3, and the trailing Jimmie Johnson in the #48 Ally Bank Chevrolet could not keep from rear-ending Dillon’s #3 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Off Road Chevrolet. The contact caused Dillon to slam the outside wall with the right-front corner while Johnson caught race leader Hamlin as he passed in the middle lane. All three cars spent an extended time on pit road for repairs, none longer than Dillon. Dillon managed to clear the Crash Clock while Houff and Weatherman traded last place on the restart. That changed by Lap 107, when more repairs for Dillon dropped him to last place. Dillon apparently returned to action for around eight laps, then pulled into the garage near Turn 2. Having cleared the clock, the crew was able to work on Dillon’s car and avoid the #3 scoring its first-ever Cup Series last-place finish at Bristol.

Finally, on Lap 196, Austin Dillon re-fired the engine and returned to pit road at the head of the backstretch, 92 laps down to the leaders. As he got up to speed and passed both Houff and the #53 Chelle Corporation / AQRE Ford of Josh Bilicki, the crew reported no smoke coming from the #3 while the driver said the water temperature was sitting at 232 degrees Fahrenheit. Later in the race on Lap 258, Dillon recalled how strange his accident was, saying the right front “bound up” before it blew and he held the brakes. He also said he likely wouldn’t have hit the wall if Johnson hadn’t rear-ended him.

Harvick's crew stands by during transmission repairs.
PHOTO: NASCAR Streaming Services
Harvick didn’t enter the last-place picture until a routine pit stop near the end of Stage 2. With just two laps to go in the stage, NBC’s cameras caught the #4 being pushed behind the wall with transmission issues. Replays showed the transmission fail after the jack dropped, stopping the car in its tracks. Harvick’s car happened to be one of four in the field with livestream cameras on board, so viewers could watch as the Stewart-Haas Racing team set to work underneath the machine. By Lap 284, Harvick was within 65 laps of being passed by Dillon, who was still on the track. There was also the chance of getting another spot if they returned – Reed Sorenson pulled Spire Motorsports’ #77 Go-Parts Chevrolet off after Harvick, and was the first to retire from the race. If Harvick completed just 26 more laps, he’d finish ahead of the #77, who would inherit last place if Dillon also finished.

On Lap 301, Harvick’s crew seemed to have the car fixed. He was 58 laps down and rolling toward the exit to pit road at Turn 4. Then the car stopped directly in front of the media center. The crew pushed him back, and someone diagnosed a possible clutch issue stemming from a failure in the transmission’s input shaft. It was a clutch issue that also happened to eliminate Sorenson from the race. On Lap 328, Harvick was told he could hop out of the car. Two circuits later, someone on the crew said “We’re done.” And on Lap 336, Harvick’s car was unavailable on RaceView, out with clutch issues.

Harvick stalls in front of the media center after repairs.
PHOTO: NASCAR Streaming Services
Back on the track, Dillon fell 110 laps down, but still managed to catch and pass Harvick for 38th on Lap 353. In the end, he would escape the Bottom Five completely, losing just three more laps in the process en route to a 34th-place finish. Sorenson finished 38th. The next two spots fell to Front Row Motorsports as Michael McDowell’s #34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford and David Ragan’s #38 MDS Ford were collected in a multi-car pileup that brought out the final yellow on Lap 373. Ragan’s finish came after a solid mid-pack run just days after he’d announced his intention to retire from full-time competition at the end of 2019. For McDowell, it was his first Bottom Five of 2019. Rounding out the group was Josh Bilicki, the second Rick Ware Racing driver to fall out due to fatigue this summer. Bilicki tweeted his helmet hose blower broke, forcing him to run with the visor up. The heat continued to get to him until he became sick, forcing him to pull off the track.

UPDATE: Harvick's crew chief Rodney Childers tweeted Monday that a locker in the rear gear failed and not the clutch. However, clutch remains the official cause on record.

Matt DiBenedetto, the 2016 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Champion, earned a career-best runner-up finish in Leavine Family Racing’s #95 Toyota Express Maintenance Toyota. The finish continued a strong summer stretch that began with a previous best 4th-place run at Sonoma. After leading Happy Hour, qualifying 7th, and running Top 10 most of the night, he took 2nd place with a daring three-wide pass on the final restart, then the lead after a door-to-door battle with Erik Jones that ended with Jones in the wall. He led 93 consecutive laps and was trying to hold off polesitter Denny Hamlin until contact with Playoff bubble driver Ryan Newman allowed Hamlin to catch up and get by with just 12 to go. The run came just two days after DiBenedetto confirmed rumors that he would be out of a ride next year, released from the Leavine team likely in favor of a Joe Gibbs development driver. DiBenedetto, who has turned things around after 20 LASTCAR features, still has no plans for 2020.

*This marked the first last-place finish for car #4 in a Cup Series race at Bristol.
*The 244 laps Harvick completed are the fourth-most by a last-place finisher of a Cup Series race at Bristol. The record remains 373 by Jamie McMurray on March 16, 2008.
*Harvick is the first Cup Series driver to fall out due to clutch issues since May 29, 2016, when Reed Sorenson’s World Record Striper Company / Hauling Bass Chevrolet fell out after 200 laps of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Harvick is also the first to finish last at Bristol for this reason since March 30, 1980. When Buck Simmons earned his first last-place finish in the #12 Ramey’s Chevy City Chevrolet during the Valleydale Southeastern 500.
*Harvick is just the third driver to ever lead at least one lap of a Cup Series race at Bristol and finish last in the same event. The only other two instances were March 29, 1981, when Dave Marcis’ #71 Bowlin Coal / Hudson Chevrolet broke the rear end after leading 18 of the first 60 laps, and August 24, 1991, when Rusty Wallace’s #2 Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac led 16 of the first 88 laps before a crash.

39) #4-Kevin Harvick / 244 laps / clutch / led 28 laps
38) #77-Reed Sorenson / 269 laps / clutch
37) #34-Michael McDowell / 368 laps / crash
36) #38-David Ragan / 371 laps / crash
35) #53-Josh Bilicki / 373 laps / fatigue

1st) Rick Ware Racing (7)
2nd) Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
3rd) Front Row Motorsports (3)
4th) Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Spire Motorsports (2)
5th) Germain Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports Business Management (1)

1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Ford (9)
3rd) Toyota (2)


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