The message Harvick was sending was clear.
When the checkered flag flew Sunday on the second Chase event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway it proved very familiar theater.
With every point so valuable, his JGR crew hurried to fix the Toyota and he returned to the race more than 30 laps behind the leader. They would advance with a victory, but Jimmie Johnson stands in their way at Dover, where he has a track- record 10 victories. The line up was kept reasonable consistent throughout the first half of the race thanks to a regular supply of cautions allowing the field to pit in sequence. Johnson cut a left front tire with 100 laps left and plummeted from third to 30th.
Busch suffered a flat tire while minding his own business in the middle of the race, sending him crashing into the wall.
Because of that, Busch drops near the bottom of the championship standings, and unless he wins at Dover next week, it is likely he will be in the first round of cuts.
“I’m fine”, she said afterwards. “I was trying to run hard”. Now he’s in danger of failing to advance past the first round – another potential Chase disappointment in a career full of them. “We were having a good race and the vehicle was definitely pretty decent”.
NASCAR officials vowed to crack down on restarts entering the Chase, and still had an issue last week when Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch battled for the lead.
On the restart, had Harvick been able to pull away from his pursuers, he could have feathered the accelerator to save fuel. Harvick couldn’t afford to lift his foot and allow Kenseth to get too close. Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski and Harvick were the leaders on the restart, gambling their fuel would hold out.
Harvick, who didn’t talk with the media afterward after leading 216 of the race’s 300 laps, had elected not to pit for fuel and tires during a caution on Lap 239.
Kenseth joined Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Denny Hamlin as an automatic qualifier for the Chase for the Sprint Cup contender round.
“You had to be there to win it”, said Kenseth in victory lane. “I was giving Kevin everything I had”.
“This is unbelievable. This feels unbelievable”, he added.
It wasn’t all great for Joe Gibbs Racing. I really appreciate these guys a lot and thank the Lord for putting me here. Denny Hamlin, who won the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, took second. “I thought he had us beat”.
On Sunday, Harvick dashed past pole-sitter Carl Edwards on Lap 20. “Overall, it was a good day for the company”.
“We listen to the garage, we listen to what they say”, Buck said. “It was a blue collar day”.
Harvick declined to comment but tweeted: “Fast auto”.
“You know Harvick is going to be on a tear”. The team needed this. “But we knew that he possibly couldn’t make it, based on our count”. As Biffle stayed stagnant through the restart zone, Keselowski accelerated.
Then, Sunday, Harvick couldn’t bring the race’s dominant vehicle to victory circle after he ran out of gas with two laps left.
The gamble backfired. Harvick ran out of gas, and now he is nearly out of chances to defend his Sprint Cup title.
Joe Gibbs Racing continues to be the hottest team in NASCAR with yet another strong finish stellar day. Bowyer himself is looking for a new race seat for 2016 after it was announced that MWR is to cease full time Cup operations at the end of the year.
Kyle Busch could be in jeopardy of being eliminated unless he wins next week at Dover.
Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Harvick and Clint Bowyer are the final four drivers on the brink of elimination. On the bubble in terms of making it through to the second round of the play-offs is Earnhardt, with McMurray only one point further ahead of the #88.