Oh, so close: Kevin Harvick nearly earned back-to-back Sprint Cup titles

After winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2014, his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick came within a whisker of repeating this year.

Harvick’s 2015 season was nothing short of remarkable, as the California native posted three victories, 23 top-five and 28 top-10 finishes in 36 starts. Included in the top five total were 13 runner-up finishes, truly an amazing total. 

In the first five races of the season alone, Harvick posted a pair of victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, and runner-up runs at Daytona International Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway.

It didn’t matter what track NASCAR was racing at on any given weekend. The No. 4 SHR Chevrolet was bad fast at virtually every single stop on the circuit.  There wasn’t a single race all year long where Harvick both qualified outside the top 10 and finished outside the top 10. The combination of Harvick, his brilliant crew chief Rodney Childers, and the skilled and experienced SHR crew made for a formidable combination.

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Still, given the format of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Harvick had some late-season drama. In the opening race of the Chase, Harvick and Jimmie Johnson made contact on a restart, with Harvick spinning and finishing 42nd. After the race, Johnson went to Harvick’s motorcoach to discuss the incident. Harvick shoved — or punched, depending on one’s point of view — Johnson in the chest and the two had to be separated.

The next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Harvick led 216 of 300 laps, but ran out of gas with three laps to go. Faced with a must-win at Dover International Speedway, Harvick crushed the field, leading 355 of 400 laps to win easily and advance to the next round of the Chase. 

Later in the Chase, Harvick was at the center of one of the biggest controversies of the season.

At Talladega Superspeedway, the field lined up for a green-white-checkered restart at the end of the race. Before the leaders even get to the restart zone, Harvick moved the No. 4 SHR Chevy well out of the racing line and up towards the outside wall because he had major engine problems and his car would not come up to speed.

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But there was a crash before the leaders got to the start-finish line, so NASCAR threw the yellow and ordered another restart, saying that the first one didn’t count as an official restart attempt.

The second time, Harvick did not pull out of line before the restart zone, instead opting to stay in line. Between the time most of the field crossed through the restart zone but before they hit the start-finish line, Trevor Bayne pulled out from behind Harvick and attempted to pass him on the outside, which is legal. Harvick’s car went up the banking, hit Bayne and triggered a big crash.

By then, though, NASCAR had thrown the green flag and they ruled that the restart attempt was good. That gave Joey Logano the race victory. By virtue of his 15th-place finish, Harvick narrowly advanced to the Eliminator Round of the Chase.  

Harvick said he did what he had to do; a number of other drivers criticized the move. Regardless, NASCAR did not issue any penalties or sanctions and Harvick eventually was able to advance to the Championship Round of the Chase. 

In 2014, Harvick won the last two races of the season and with it, the Sprint Cup championship. In 2015, he finished second in the last two races of the season and second in points to Kyle Busch.

Still, it was a tremendous season for Harvick and his team, and he should be in title mix again in 2016.

"It’s been a great couple of years, and I’m looking forward to next year," Harvick said after the final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "So, it’s fun to be able to run like this. You always want to win, but I’ve learned not to get greedy. After last year, I felt like we had everything go our way, and tonight, it didn’t go our way. But, just congratulations to the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) team and everything they did, and all of our guys – they’ve done a great job all year."