Kevin Harvick came within reach of winning the opening race of the NASCAR playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. While that may not be a surprise to many, it appeared to be for him.
The 2014 Cup champion said his Stewart-Haas Racing team “ground one out” with what had been a 20th-place car early in the weekend.
However, Harvick wound up finishing second and contending for the win in the South Point 400. Even more, he led the race in the waning laps before falling victim to a charging Martin Truex Jr.
“If you would have told me at the end of Friday night that we would have been in contention to win the race with 25 laps to go, I would have laughed at you,” Harvick said. “I would have told you we were nowhere even close. The guys did a great job scrambling and doing everything that they could to keep changing stuff and keep making the car better; we made our car better throughout the race.”
A laundry list of changes happened to the No. 4 Ford Mustang.
“We’ve changed all four springs, all four shocks, bump stops, sway bars, ride heights, you name it, we’ve changed it on this car this weekend,” Harvick detailed. “After practice (and) before the race, we did the exact same thing again – maybe not all four springs, but we changed three of them for sure.
“We just kept grinding at it and trying to put ourselves in position, and we qualified well, and that gives you a little bit of a buffer at the beginning of these races. We were able to get a good, solid first stage and gain some points, and we were able to adjust on our car and keep our track position and keep ourselves in it all day.”
Harvick led three times for 47 laps Sunday, second-most to Joey Logano. Third-best of the SHR cars when they went 1-2-3-4 in qualifying, it wasn’t until early in the final stage when Harvick flexed his muscle.
Taking the lead on Lap 187 as Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin nearly tangled while side-by-side, Harvick set the pace for the next 43 laps. Green flag pit stops began with 40 laps to go, with Harvick making his final stop with 37 laps to go. Once back on track, he cycled to the race lead with 21 laps to go and was soon after passed by Truex.
“I was having trouble with the front turning and the back sliding,” Harvick said. “We were lacking overall grip, and Martin was able to catch us on that next to last run at the end of the run and I needed a restart. I needed the rubber to be picked up and be able to run flat out for ten laps to build that lead and I was just never able to do that.”