Busch Light Driver's Race-High 128 Laps Led Derailed by Late Fuel Stop
Date: July 9, 2016
Event: Kentucky 400 (Round 18 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Kentucky Speedway in Sparta (1.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 1st/9th (Running, completed 267 of 267 laps)
Point Standing: 1st (599 points, 4 points ahead of second)
Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished ninth in Saturday’s Kentucky 400 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta after a late-race fuel stop extinguished his chances of earning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at the 1.5-mile oval.
Harvick, who had never led a lap at Kentucky Speedway before Saturday evening, started first in the Kentucky 400 after qualifying was cancelled on Friday due to inclement weather and the field was set according to driver point standings. He went on to lead a total of five times and a race-high 128 laps.
Shortly after taking the green flag Harvick reported a tight-handling condition, so crew chief Rodney Childers made the call to adjust air pressure on the No. 4 Chevrolet during a competition caution on lap 25. Childers implemented an aggressive pit strategy in changing only right-side tires, which he carried over during the next two stops as well to keep Harvick at the front of the field.
The team adjusted its strategy to four tires after the halfway mark and made a wedge adjustment during a scheduled green-flag stop on lap 147, as Harvick was still fighting tight handling. During the stop Harvick went beyond his stall, which caused a delay for the team, but he recovered from the extra time on pit road and soon settled back into the top-five.
Just as the No. 4 Chevrolet’s handling seemed to be improving, it fell loose after Harvick pitted for left-side tires during a caution on lap 195. After leading the field to the restart, he was shuffled back to third due to the car’s lack of grip. He stayed among the top-five as the race closed in on the final 25 laps but had to pit one last time for fuel to make it to the finish.
Childers called Harvick to pit road for the final time with 27 laps remaining, under green-flag conditions, for right-side tires and fuel. After exiting pit road, Harvick made a strong effort to charge to the front in the remaining laps. He was able to reach ninth before crossing the finish line.
It was Harvick’s 14th top-10 this season and fourth top-10 in six career Sprint Cup starts at Kentucky.
“The event went great,” Harvick said. “We just had to put left-side tires on that one stop. Couldn’t put rights on, and then the car went away really bad. That was really kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Everybody did a great job. We kept our track position. I overshot our pit stall one time looking at my pit road speed, but we got that back. All in all, it just came down to the fuel mileage – we couldn’t make it at the end, and some guys could. That is just part of it.”
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, led the four-car SHR contingent Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway by finishing fourth.
Busch started from the rear of the field after crashing his primary racecar in practice Friday afternoon. Using his backup car, Busch methodically worked his way to the front and led once for 10 laps en route to his sixth top-five and 15th top-10 finish this season and first top-five and fourth top-10 in six career Sprint Cup starts at Kentucky.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished fifth to earn his second top-five and fourth top-10 finish this season and his first top-five in six career Sprint Cup starts at Kentucky.
Stewart maintained his position in the top-30 in the driver standings by a 31-point margin over 31st-place Brian Scott. If Stewart can remain in the top-30 through the 26th race of the season, he will secure his spot in the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff by virtue of his victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.
To compete for the series championship, Stewart had to win at least one race and must be within the top-30 of the championship standings by the 26th race of the season Sept. 10 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. With his victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, Stewart checked one box on his way toward Chase eligibility.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 17th.
Brad Keselowski won the Kentucky 400 to score his fourth victory of the season, his third at Kentucky and the 21st of his career.
Carl Edwards finished .175 of a second behind Keselowski in the runner-up spot, while Ryan Newman, Busch and Stewart rounded out the top-five. Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 53 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 267-lap race. The 11 cautions tied the track record, set last year.
With round 18 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR and the series in the championship standings. He is first with 599 points, four ahead of second-place Keselowski. Busch remained in third with 583 points, 16 behind leader Harvick.
Harvick earned a spot in the Chase via his win March 13 at Phoenix International Raceway, and Busch secured his position via his win June 6 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Patrick is 24th with 327 points, 110 ahead of 31st-place Scott. Like Stewart, if Patrick can win a race and finish among the top-30 in points following the 26th race of the season, she will earn a Chase berth.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the New Hampshire 301 on Sunday, July 17, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. NBCSN will broadcast the race starting at 1:30 p.m. EDT.
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