Late track position keeps Kevin Harvick out of Victory Lane

Kyle Busch, center, gets between race leader Kevin Harvick, left, and Brad Keselowski on the front straightaway to get his lap back during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sunday, July 19, 2015, in Loudon, New Hampshire. Busch went on to win the race. 

Jim Cole/AP

As has been the case for much of the 2015 season, defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick had one of the cars to beat during Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver started 12th on the day, but led a total of 59 laps and was in contention for the victory late in the race.

It would not be enough, though, as the No. 4 Chevrolet would cross the line third at the checkered flag, behind winner Kyle Busch and second-place Brad Keselowski. With a fast car under him, the difference in the race came under the sixth caution of the day with less than 50 laps to go.

While Harvick was battling with Keselowski for the race lead, Busch hit pit road for what he thought was a flat tire. Busch did not have a tire issue; instead, oil was on the track from another car. The pit stop dropped Busch a lap down to Harvick, but he was on a charge.

On Lap 250, Busch made a bold move between Keselowski, Harvick and a lapped car going down the frontstretch to put himself back on the lead lap. Right after the pass, NASCAR threw the caution for oil on the track.

Under caution, Harvick led the field to pit road, with the exception of Busch. Crew chief Rodney Childers called for four tires on the stop, putting Harvick sixth on the restart. Busch assumed the lead by staying out, Keselowski was second on two tires, followed by the trio of Joe Gibbs Racing cars Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin.

On the restart, Harvick was able to make moves and work his way by the JGR cars to earn the fourth spot. While Busch was driving away with the lead, Harvick was able to move past Logano to take the third spot, but he could get no higher.

While taking four tires dropped him deeper in the field on the final restart of the race, Harvick thought the call by Childers was the right one to make.

"I definitely think that track position didn’t help us, but I think four tires was the right call," Harvick said. "Just really proud of my guys for the whole weekend, we didn’t start off well on Friday and were able to really get our car going. Had a really good car during the race."