BRISTOL, Tenn. — Outside of a two-race stretch in early August, Kevin Harvick has had a forgettable season. He made the playoffs by virtue of wins at Michigan International Speedway and Richmond Raceway, but has otherwise struggled to piece together consistent results.
When the playoffs started two weeks ago, Harvick had a clean slate. But, a fire at Darlington Raceway and an early crash at Kansas Speedway put Harvick in a deep points hole, forcing him into a must-win situation Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He started seventh in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race and dropped back to 14th at the end of Stage 1. He improved up to 10th at the end of Stage 2 and his car started to come to life.
When leader Brad Keselowski blew a tire with 85 laps to go, Harvick moved into to third place with a chance to win the race. Twenty laps later, Christopher Bell blew a tire and brought out a caution.
Harvick pitted with most of the contenders and could take the lead if he won the race off pit road. His team elected for a four tire stop, but leaving his pit box, the left front wheel fell off.
Harvick backed into his box and the team jacked the car back up. They put the tire back on and re-tightehed it before he raced off.
Although Harvick salvaged a 10th-place finish, it wasn’t nearly enough. He needed to win.
“It just kind of goes with the whole year,” Harvick said. “Nothing has gone right, really. The wheels literally fell off tonight… [the pit crew has] done a good job, just bad timing.”
“We pitted in front of the 17, but that’s just the way the year has gone. We went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade, just difficult to pass. The cars are way too fast in the corners. You can’t race.”
Harvick, the 2014 champion and a five-time Championship 4 qualifier, failed to advance past the Round of 16 for the first time in his career. He went winless and got eliminated after the Round of 12 last season, but rebounded to finish fifth in points for the second consecutive year.
With seven races remaining, Harvick, who has 14 top 10s this season, is last in points among playoff drivers. While his championship hopes are gone, he’ll look to improve his points position the remainder of 2022.
Next on the Cup Series schedule is Texas Motor Speedway, a place where Harvick has won three times. Sunday’s race, the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500, is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.