Deteriorating Handling Dooms Kevin Harvick’s Title Shot

Kevin Harvick, the driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Ford, walks through the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18, 2017, in Homestead, Florida. Photo – Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Before the shadows crept over Turns 1 and 2 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kevin Harvick had a car capable of challenging fellow title contenders Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.

In the early stages of Sunday’s Ford Eco-Boost 400, he often had the best car among those eligible for the championship.

But as the sun set, Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford tightened up in the corners. Then a piece of flying debris from David Starr’s Chevrolet shot a hole in his championship hopes.

The debris punched a hole in the nose of Harvick’s car below the right-side headlight decal. Though his crew did an admirable job repairing the damage, the handling of Harvick’s Fusion wasn’t where he needed it to be over the final 34-lap green-flag run.

After a restart on lap 234 of 267, Harvick harried eventual race winner and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Truex before falling back to fourth at the finish.

“We just got really loose and then got a hole in the nose and it started to get tight in (into the corner),” said Harvick, who in 2014 became the first driver to win a Cup title under the elimination format. “We got that fixed. We were pretty good on the next-to-last run, and we were just really loose on the last run.

“It was great to have a chance. We were in the mix all day. Didn’t quite have what we needed at the end… Just couldn’t quite get it where we needed to be to make good times. Some runs we fell off. Some runs we were tight on entry. There at the end we were just too loose.”