Harvick finishes up-and-down day nearly on top of the mountain
Kevin Harvick's day at Pocono Raceway had more ups and downs than the roads that surround the 2.5-mile track nestled in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.
Starting from the sixth spot, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver had to overcome a mistake on his part and late-race damage to the car, but rallied to challenge Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the win on the final lap.
"This hasn't been one of my best tracks but I just have to thank all my guys on this Mobil 1 Chevy for putting us in position to at least pull some strategy there," Harvick said. "I made a lot of mistakes today and they made up for it with a fast race car."
Keeping up with the ever-changing pit strategies, Harvick was a staple in the top 10 for much of the race, which was dominated by Joey Logano in the early stages and Jeff Gordon in the second half of the event.
As green-flag stops cycled through just past the halfway mark of the 160-lap race, Harvick brought his No. 4 Chevrolet to pit road as the leader on Lap 96. However, as he pulled out of the stall and headed back on the track, NASCAR determined he was too fast on pit road and Harvick was forced to bring the car in for a pass-through penalty on Lap 97.
Dropping outside the top 25 as a result, Harvick and his Rodney Childers-led team kept calm and went to work making their way back through the field.
When the field restarted the race with 44 laps to go, Harvick was lined up 19 on the field when they took the green flag and drove into Turn 1. As the field powered out of the corner, Denny Hamlin, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth blocked the track and triggered a 14-car wreck that would eliminate many of the cars ahead of Harvick in the running order.
As the crash unfolded in front of him, Harvick dove to the bottom of the race track at full speed, catching some air as he drove over the apron of the track. Harvick's No. 4 Chevy made contact with the inside wall, but he was able to drive away to the attention of his pit crew.
Thanks to pitting three subsequent times under that caution for repairs, Harvick was able to stay out late as many of the lead cars later came to pit road.
Restarting second to Greg Biffle with 17 laps to go, Harvick could not hold off the hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he powered toward the front on the restart.
Once Earnhardt Jr. was able to take the lead from Biffle, Harvick was able to take the second spot, but was over three seconds behind the leader. Yet when teammate Kurt Busch hit the wall to bring out the final caution of the day, Harvick had another shot at the win.
Making a hard charge on Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap, Harvick was able to get to his back bumper, but was unable to make a move for the win.
For Harvick, overcoming the multitude of issues throughout the day was the biggest takeaway from Sunday's race, and something that makes him optimistic about their Chase for the Sprint Cup outlook.
"I think today was very important. I think last week was kind of the same way," said Harvick. "We didn't have the car that we wanted, I felt like we had a top three car today, it just, we were going to need track position and things were not really going well.
"They were able to fix the car after we wrecked it," he said. "So that's what we talked about as we came back from the break was just scrambling, being able to scramble and get a finish of some sort to get something out of a day. So that's what you're going to have to do the last 10 weeks and today we were able to accomplish that and hopefully this is a good sign of things to come."
Despite missing out on his third victory of the season, Harvick's runner-up finish locked the No. 4 team into this year's 16-driver Chase field.
Yet Harvick does not expect that fact to change the team's approach to the final weeks before the Chase.
"I think that it's just trying to get your self ready for the last 10 weeks, to know that you're not going to win every race, you're going to have days like today where you have to scramble, you're going to have practices where your car is off, you're going to have things that are going to go wrong," he said. "On the days when things are right, you need to capitalize on them and win the race."
VIDEO: Harvick happy after rallying for runner-up finish at Pocono