LOUDON, N.H. – It’s simple for Kevin Harvick. Win and he can pursue a second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Question is can he win?
Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway proved another disappointing setback for Harvick and his team, continuing a theme that has become as prevalent as his fast cars.
“At the end of the day all that matters is where you finished,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing. “It’s not how you got there, or how good you ran all day, it’s how you finished.
“We’re just not executing to close the deal on wins.’’
Harvick finished 21st after leading 216 of 300 laps.
For the second time in the last seven races, Harvick ran out of fuel while leading. It happened on the last lap at Watkins Glen International in August. Sunday, he relinquished the lead with three laps to go, allowing Matt Kenseth to win.
Harvick didn’t talk to reporters after the race. Crew chief Rodney Childers later explained on Twitter that the team should have had enough fuel to make it to the end and suspected that either the team didn’t get the car full of fuel on its last stop or “the fuel cell bladder is coming apart.’’
Either way it’s another race that Harvick dominated and didn’t win. He can’t afford to repeat this cycle next week. If so, the competitor feared as one of the toughest challengers for the championship could be out after the first round.
His problems in the Chase started last week at Chicagoland Speedway when contact with Jimmie Johnson caused a tire rub and led to Harvick crashing three laps later. Harvick finished 42nd, putting him in a situation that he likely needed to win at New Hampshire or Dover to advance.
It appeared as if Harvick would overcome that incident this weekend. He was fast in practice and qualifying and proved to be as strong in the race until the end.
“Some days it feels like everyone is against you, but that’s just what this sport is about,’’ Zipadelli said.
What makes one think that Harvick can overcome his misfortune in the Chase is that he’s done it before. He had to win at Phoenix last fall to advance to the championship round. He had to win at the season finale at Homestead to capture the title since Ryan Newman finished second that race.
“It’s not like you can’t do it, but you hate to continue to put yourself in that position,’’ Zipadelli said.
The last time the series raced at Dover, Harvick finished second, struggling on restarts late after an issue with the track bar. Another runner-up finish, which would be his 11th of the season, likely wouldn’t be enough unless Dale Earnhardt Jr., who holds the final transfer spot and leads Harvick by 23 points and Kyle Busch and Paul Menard (who both lead by Harvick by 22 points) also have issues. That’s asking a lot.
So, it’s win or get in for Harvick. Despite leading more than twice as many laps as any other driver this season, Harvick’s last win came six months ago at Phoenix.
So can he do it this weekend when he likely must?
“Things haven’t gone exactly to plan,’’ Harvick tweeted Sunday night, “but I promise you one thing ‘we will not quit.’ ‘’