Harvick driving hard to very end

Kevin Harvick received a gift Sunday.

"Hey, miracles happen every day, bro," spotter Billy O’Dea said to his driver as Harvick passed Carl Edwards, who ran out of gas coming out of Turn 4 to the white flag at Phoenix International Raceway.

"Hell yeah," Harvick replied as he finished ahead of Kasey Kahne by 1.796 seconds for his 23rd career Sprint Cup victory.

“We’re still in this,” team owner Richard Childress replied.

With Harvick facing his final race of a swan-song season with Richard Childress Racing, he cut his deficit in the points standings behind leader Jimmie Johnson from 40 points to 34 with the win.

However, with Johnson finishing third in the Advocare 500, he extended his advantage by 28 points over Matt Kenseth, who struggled with an ill-handling car and a miscue on pit road. While Kenseth maintained second place in the points standings, his misfortunes relegated the No. 20 Toyota to a 23rd-place finish.

Johnson built a solid cushion over Kenseth with next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to decide the championship. But it wasn’t a drama-free run for the No. 48 team, by any means.

“We had a fast race car, a couple of hairy moments of contact, just short-track racing stuff,” Johnson said. “Hypersensitive to that stuff — especially this late in the going — and going into Turn 1, it was close. I thought I was into the wall.

"Great day. We did what we needed to. I wish we could have won the race. I felt the way that practice and qualifying went, we had a car capable of that. We kind of finished where we were. I think we were probably a second- or third-place car — maybe a winning car if we had track position. But we got what we could and had a nice day in the points.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five.

Although Edwards, in the No. 99 Ford, pitted for fuel on Lap 248, crew chief Jimmy Fennig told Edwards with five laps remaining, “You’re good by one (lap) but help us if you can.” But Edwards eventually finished 21st and dropped to 13th in the points standings.

“I had no clue we were gonna run out of fuel,” Edwards said. “That was a surprise to me. Jimmy talked to me about saving a little bit to have some extra, and I did that a couple of laps, but Kevin closed in and was obviously not saving fuel. There at the end we were a lap-and-a-half short or so, and that’s tough, but we had an awesome car.

“We thought we were gonna win for them. We did everything right. We just miscalculated that one part, and that’s NASCAR. You’ve got to be perfect.”

Harvick and the No. 29 RCR team weren’t “perfect,” but after more than a decade of working — on and off — together with crew chief Gil Martin, the pair has never given up. Despite Harvick being a lame duck after announcing he will be driving for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, the team has taken great pleasure in proving it would compete hard until the end.

“I told these guys, that they have to be the toughest group that I’ve been around, just because of the simple reason of everybody has been expecting us to implode,” Martin said. “Everybody is expecting us to fail and not succeed, and with the rest of the garage trying to force some of that upon you, to not get distracted, whether it’s the team, whether it’s Kevin, whether it’s anybody involved with our organization, it just shows the quality of these guys because this is just a tough environment.

“Nobody knows how tough this environment is until you live it every day.”

Certainly, maintaining an air of civility throughout their final year together has not always been easy. Harvick’s meltdown at Martinsville Speedway after wrecking Childress’ grandson Ty Dillon and RCs response of retaliation over the radio were both well-documented.

But after 13 seasons, two Nationwide Series titles, 23 wins and nine top-10 appearances on the Sprint Cup tour, Harvick and RCR have enjoyed quite a successful run.

“We’ve been good for each other because we challenge each other,” Harvick said. “You know, I obviously handle a lot of situations wrong, but it pushes a lot of buttons to try to make things better. There’s no better way to go out than to do what we’ve done this year.

“Obviously, we went to Martinsville, and I said things that I shouldn’t have said and put everybody in a position that was not good, but I think we had conversations about things after that that probably made us closer as people, and I think as we move forward will probably make us closer as friends.”

Childress agrees. Although this relationship has had its Hatfield and McCoy moments, Childress vowed at the start of the season that the team would “give 100 percent” to Harvick for one last run, and he never wavered on that commitment.

“We’ve had a great relationship," Childress said, "and when this race is over, I haven’t got a driver out there that’s driven for me or crew chief or anyone I can’t walk up and talk to, and that’s the way we want this to be.

“We’re like family. You spend a lot of time with each other at the track, so you’re going to have your spats and stuff, and just got to make it work.”