2018 will be remembered as the “what if” season for Kevin Harvick.
In the end, it was close but no cigar. The Bakersfield, California native finished third in the Ford EcoBoost 400 and third in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship battle. A career-best, eight-win season ended without the big prize.
“We had a daytime racecar,” Harvick said as Joey Logano celebrated as a champion behind him. “As soon as it got dark, we never could get our car tightened up there at the end. Then, they made a great call to put us in position to win the race. And then, the caution came out when the No. 2 car spun the No. 19 out.
“Came off pit road fourth, and just our strong point was not the restarts tonight. Wound up on the wrong side of it.”
After what was his statistically best season, some would consider not hoisting his second Cup championship trophy a disappointment. But Harvick was quick to shoot that theory down, citing the accomplishments throughout.
“It’s been a great year,” he said. “We just got beat tonight.”
In the closing laps, Harvick seemed to be in prime position. He was the first of the Championship 4 to pit and wound up with the lead. But after a late caution came out, forcing another round of stops, there were too many variables working against the No. 4 team.
“We just didn’t have track position and they just drove off,” he said of the final restart. “Wound up with a restart there and didn’t really get going at the beginning […] I was just trying to hit one lap at a time.”
If Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions were any indication, Harvick was not the favorite coming in. But on the long run, he was clearly the quickest, winning the first stage and coming home second (Kyle Larson passed him with one turn to go). It was an impressive comeback considering regular crew chief Rodney Childers was MIA. He was serving the second of his two-race suspension for an illegal spoiler found at Texas Motor Speedway… but still found a way to contribute.
8 hours straight on my computer yesterday afternoon and into the night running sim laps with @DaxGerringer .. Made the changes this morning and drove to the front. Really proud of our effort all weekend. And proud of @KevinHarvick .. Just didn’t need that caution at the end.
— Rodney Childers (@RodneyChilders4) November 19, 2018
“We didn’t make a lot of big changes, we just made a lot of small changes,” Harvick said of the turnaround. “The car was definitely better. But when it got dark, we just lost the rear grip and couldn’t get off the corner.
“The balance was really good until it was dark outside and we just could never get the rear grip back to where we wanted to. We couldn’t take off. They put us in a position to win if the caution didn’t come out, we had a shot there with, I don’t know, 18 laps to go when the caution came out, the way it all shook out and the No. 22 took off good.”