Kevin Harvick survives major scare after cut tire in AAA Texas 500

Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick avoided a major scare in the early going of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, but the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s day was full of complications.

Throughout the 334-lap event Harvick suffered two blown tires and had to overcome driving the car one-handed for nearly 100 laps. But in the end, the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet came home third behind Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski and kept his championship hopes alive.

Taking the checkered flag, Harvick came over the team radio and said, “That was an eventful day.”

“We just hung in there and fought like we’ve done the last two years to make something out of the day there at the end,” said Harvick, standing on pit road after the race. “I’ve never had to drive a car with one hand that long. I’ve had to drive them with one arm on occasion, but never for 100 laps. We got lucky today that two flat tires didn’t tear the back of the car off or the motor didn’t blow up when the car popped out of gear.”

Running second behind Keselowski on Lap 36, Harvick cut a left-rear tire going through the tri-oval and immediately took the car to the apron, which brought out the third caution of the day.

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Unlike what happened to Team Penske’s Joey Logano No. 22 Ford on Lap 10, Harvick’s tire did not explode and there was no damage to the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. Harvick brought the car to the attention of his pit crew and they changed the tires and sent him back on the track without losing a lap to the leaders.

After examining the tire, crew chief Rodney Childers told Harvick he must have run over a piece of sheet metal from another car, likely Logano’s No. 22 Ford. Harvick told the crew there was still debris all over the backstretch and the cleanup crews just blew everything to the bottom of the track.

While Harvick was able to stay on the lead lap, he was forced to restart at the tail end of the field in the 40th spot when the race restarted. Harvick wasted no time working his way through the field once the green flag flew, however.

Harvick quickly worked his way back into contention for the race win, moving into the second spot on Lap 137 of 334.

The issues were far from over, however.

Running second with less than 100 laps to go, Harvick was forced to drive with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the shifter after the car kept popping out of gear. Harvick said the hardest part of driving one-handed was that his right arm kept falling asleep, meaning he occasionally had to put it back on the wheel.

Rubber meets the road: Tire problems hinder drivers in early going of AAA Texas 500

“Keeping the car straight was really not that big of a deal, it was really just my arm going to sleep,” he said.

Maintaining the second spot, Harvick kept up a quick pace driving one handed, but another flat tire on Lap 282 once again put the No. 4 team behind the eight ball.

This time, Harvick cut a right rear tire and was forced to come to pit road with 53 laps to go. Childers again informed his driver he ran over a piece of debris.

“There was debris everywhere,” said Harvick. “The first caution they just blew all of the debris down to the inside wall and it seemed like a lot of people were hitting the wall and there was a lot of stuff out there today. Definitely interesting with all the tire problems.”

When green flag pit stops cycled through for the leaders, Harvick momentarily took the lead, but with the rest of the field on fresher tires, he was unable to hold the spot and began to fall back.

However, when the caution flew for debris with 23 laps to go, Harvick caught a break when was able to come back to pit road with the rest of the field. The caution also allowed the team to give Harvick a bungee cord to help keep the car in gear over the final run of the day, but he was never able to get it hooked up properly.

“I never found anything to hook it to,” he said. “I don’t trust those bungees, to be honest with you. I would rather just sit there and hold it and take my chances.”

Harvick entered the day in the fourth in the Chase standings with a seven-point advantage over fifth. Finishing the day third and leading 11 laps, Harvick heads to Phoenix International Raceway third in the Chase standings with a nine-point advantage over Carl Edwards in fifth.

Arguably his best track, Harvick is eager to get to Phoenix — a track where he has seven wins, four in a row and five of the last six — but know there is no guarantee he will win next week’s race.

“It’s definitely a good place for us to go,” Harvick said of Phoenix. “Obviously it’s been very successful, but that doesn’t mean we’re going go there and run good this time. We’ve got to go and try to have our ducks in a row.

"We’ve done a good job of managing the Chase so far with all the adversity we’ve had so far. We’ve really only had one smooth weekend, so we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully the smooth weekend is next weekend and the week after. We’ll see.”