Sunday, September 11, 2022

CUP: Turbulent air sends Kevin Harvick into the wall early at Kansas

ALL PHOTOS: @DnfRacers

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Kevin Harvick picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #4 Rheem Ford crashed after 33 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Harvick’s 782nd series start, was his first of the season and first since August 17, 2019 at Bristol, 112 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 42nd for the #4, the 635th from a crash, and the 725th for a Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 69th for the #4, the 999th for Ford, and the 1,303rd from a crash.

In the more than three full years since he most recently finished last in a Cup race, Harvick’s fortunes have changed dramatically. There was 2020, when he scored a career-best nine wins – including NASCAR’s return from the COVID-19 pandemic at Darlington – only to miss the Championship 4 for the first time since 2016 after a spin at Martinsville ended a terrible “Round of 8.” Then there was last year, where he went winless for the first time since 2009. He still made the Playoffs, where he engaged in an on-track rivalry with Chase Elliott, culminating with a wreck on the Charlotte “Roval.” 

The winless streak continued until the closing stages of this year’s regular season, where he scored a pair of decisive wins at Michigan and Richmond. But the frustration has remained – most significantly concerns about the safety of NASCAR’s new “NextGen” car. He was most outspoken since last week at Darlington, where a fire caused by a dislodged exhaust pipe ended his night in 33rd place. Now last overall in the Playoffs, Harvick came to Kansas, where NASCAR would debut new changes made to address these increasingly common fires.

At Kansas, Harvick ranked 18th overall in practice, then improved to 14th in qualifying with a lap of 178.944mph (30.177 seconds).

Taking 36th and last on the grid was Aric Almirola, who had engine and ECU issues during practice, requiring an engine change on his #10 Farmland Ford. Almirola would incur a redundant tail-end penalty prior to the start along with 35th-place Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., whose #47 SunnyD Chevrolet needed repairs after he struck the wall in practice following a blown right-rear tire. Almirola didn’t put up a lap in qualifying while Stenhouse turned the slowest lap at 169.247mph (31.906 seconds). During the race, Stenhouse would climb as high as 2nd, and was still in the Top Five when he suffered another right-rear tire failure on Lap 111, ultimately dropping him to 30th, 5 laps down.

By the time the race started, B.J. McLeod had dropped to last place, 3.392 seconds back of the leader, with Stenhouse up to 35th and Almirola 33rd, splitting 34th-place J.J. Yeley in the #15 RWR Ford. From the outset, McLeod was fighting an ill-handling car, and on the opening lap had already dropped 0.536 second back of the now 35th-place Yeley. McLeod drew closer on Lap 4, but steadily lost ground after. By Lap 8, he was 1.051 back of the #15. “This thing is horrible right now,” McLeod radioed on Lap 10. “I can’t run the top for nothing.” The next time by, McLeod’s deficit to Yeley grew from 1.742 seconds to 2.518. “Free on entry, extremely tight on exit,” the driver radioed. On Lap 16, McLeod was 6.447 back of Yeley, and he went a lap down the next time by. Yeley and his teammate Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT Ford were both lapped on the 25th circuit, seconds before the competition caution fell on Lap 26.

Harvick (center-right) pulls into the garage.

Under caution, Yeley took over last place on Lap 29, but McLeod took it back the next time by. Both had just begun to race each other for the Lucky Dog when the caution fell on Lap 34. At that moment, Kevin Harvick was running 5th behind Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain, who were locked in a side-by-side battle for 3rd. As Wallace and Chastain came off Turn 4, both washed up the track in front of Harvick, causing the #4 to snap loose and slam the outside wall with the right-front. With the steering damaged, Harvick’s car struck the wall a second time near the stripe as the caution flag flew. The crew removed the damaged tires, only to quickly find both the right-front and right-rear suspension heavily damaged. On Lap 35, the crew chief told the crew to “try and get it where we can get it back to the truck.” Once done, they pushed his car back and on Lap 37, Harvick drove to the garage, done for the day. As he did, both right side wheels flopped wildly within their fenders, causing a rough ride to the hauler. Harvick took last from McLeod on Lap 36, and was declared out by NASCAR on Lap 50. Harvick’s hauler was seen leaving the track on Lap 95, headed to Bristol and a “must-win” race to advance to the “Round of 12.”

Another Playoff contender was then eliminated as Tyler Reddick’s battle for the lead ended with a blown right-rear wheel on Lap 67, sending him hard into the Turn 2 wall with the right side of his #8 Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet. Reddick’s crew was able to manage some repairs – enough to run another caution lap – before he returned to pit road. He ultimately turned his car around at pit exit and drove the wrong way up to the same garage entrance used by Harvick, going behind the wall on Lap 70. Taking 34th was Ty Gibbs, who after contact from Corey LaJoie off Turn 2 slammed the wall in the #23 McDonald’s Toyota, leaving a tire carcass behind. LaJoie’s #7 Circle B Diecast Chevrolet was eliminated soon after in a restart wreck with Harrison Burton’s #21 Menards MasterForce Ford. LaJoie’s car was towed to the garage while Burton’s made it to pit road, only to be pushed behind the wall.

Bubba Wallace earns record-setting win

In this, the second race of the Playoffs, one of the 16 Playoff drivers has still yet to score a victory. Taking the checkers on Sunday was Bubba Wallace, who after the early incident involving Harvick went on to his second career win and first of the season. Wallace drove the #45 Root Insurance Toyota – the entry with which teammate Kurt Busch won the spring Kansas race before his concussion suffered at Pocono – but, in a bid to claim the Owner’s Championship, with Wallace’s #23 team, including crew chief “Bootie” Barker. This marks the first time two different Cup drivers won with the same team in the same year since 2002, when Jamie McMurray won at Charlotte in the #40 Coors Light Dodge vacated by Sterling Marlin, who was injured at this same Kansas track after wins at Las Vegas and Darlington. This hasn’t happened at the same track since 1972 with the Wood Brothers’ #21 Purolator Mercury at Daytona – A.J. Foyt won the Daytona 500, followed by David Pearson in the Firecracker 400.

36) #4-Kevin Harvick / 33 laps / crash
35) #8-Tyler Reddick / 67 laps / crash
34) #23-Ty Gibbs / 90 laps / crash
33) #7-Corey LaJoie / 114 laps / crash
32) #21-Harrison Burton / 115 laps / crash

1st) Live Fast Motorsports (6)
2nd) Hendrick Motorsports (4)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Spire Motorsports (3)
4th) Penske Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, Trackhouse Racing (2)
5th) 23XI Racing, Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing, Team Hezeberg (1)

1st) Chevrolet, Ford (12)
2nd) Toyota (4)


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