Monday, October 12, 2009
Kevin Harvick's 10th place run at Auto Club Speedway
FONTANA -- Kevin Harvick wasn’t in much of a talking mood after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana on Sunday.
Who could blame him?
His crew chief admitted his team took a fifth-place car and wound up in 10th place. Harvick battled tire air pressure and aerodynamic problems after the second round of pit stops. He had a great car on long runs, but got killed on restarts.
“That's just one of the factors of these new cars,” Harvick said. “We have great power under the hood, but getting the air pressure up faster seems to be a problem. I tried swerving, spinning and just about all the tricks to get the air heated up in the tires."
An eight-car pile-up with five laps to go in the race brought out a red flag and stopped the field. Gil Martin, Harvick’s crew chief, called him into the pits to change four tires and get fuel. Harvick returned to the race in 15th place and made up only five spots on the final three laps.
When asked if he was happy with a 10th-place finish, Harvick said, “Not really.”
“We ran better than that all day,” Harvick said.
Martin said he was in no-man’s land at the end of the race. He had Harvick pit with 23 laps to go and had enough fuel and tires to make it to the end of the race, but Mart in had some tough choices to make when a series of caution flags came out with 16 laps to go.
“It’s a no-win situation that you’re in right there,” Martin said. “The way it worked out, that we were able to come back in and get tires there at the end helped us out to get back to 10th. But basically we took a car that was about a fifth place car today and ran 10th with it.”
A dreaded debris caution came out on lap 234. Harvick was running in 10th place at the time. The race leaders pitted a couples lap earlier, so none of them came in again. Martin didn’t want to get fresh tires. He told Harvick over the radio, “Everyone in front of us don’t have tires.”
But on the restart on lap 239, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle spun out through the infield grass on the front stretch and another caution came out.
Five laps later, an eight-car crash that collected Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Marcos Ambrose and Kahne, brought out a red flag. Martin wanted to Harvick to pit and get tires once the race restarted. The move cost Harvick five spots. He moved from 15th to 12th with two laps to go and passed Ryan Newman on the last lap to finish in 10th.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise promising day.
Harvick qualified seventh and quickly worked his way into the top five. He moved into fourth place on lap 11 and passed pole sitter Denny Hamlin for third place on lap 17. He stayed there until the first round of pit stops on lap 38. Harvick and Martin decided to make no adjustments to the car. Harvick said he wanted to see “where the track goes.” The race started under overcast skies and the track was cool and fast. Harvick was able to pass the cars to get in the top five, but he had trouble tracking down the race leaders, Jimmie Johnson and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Harvick ran in third place until the next round of pit stops on lap 60. His car seemed to get stronger the longer the race stayed under green flag conditions. He picked up a spot in the pits and came out in second. When the race restarted on lap 66, Harvick dropped to fifth place. By lap 70, he was in sixth. He said his car left like it had a rear right flat tire. Martin assured him that his car looked fine. But Martin decided to make a drastic change in the tire air pressure on the next stop. He was going to take a half-pound of air pressure out of the rear right tire. It was the beginning of several air pressure and tire adjustments Martin made to Harvick’s car.
Harvick was running comfortably in sixth place when the sun broke through the clouds. The track started to heat up and Martin told Harvick the s un might be affecting the tires on his car. The next pit stop came on lap 83. Harvick’s crew got him out of the pits in fourth place, but NASCAR officials ruled that Hamlin beat him out. Martin didn’t agree. “I’m sure the tape shows it, but it didn’t look like it from here,” Martin told Harvick over the radio.
The air pressure adjustment didn’t work for Harvick’s car. He dropped quickly, from fifth to ninth in seven laps. On lap 90, Harvick told Martin his car was too tight. Meanwhile, Montoya was building a huge lead. On lap 95, he was almost 2.5 seconds ahead of Johnson’s car running in second.
But the longer the race stayed green, the more cars Harvick passed. Even with a tight car, Harvick moved up to sixth place again. The race stayed green until lap 117 when another debris caution came out. Harvick said over the radio, “These debris cautions are a bunch of crap.”
Martin decided to change the air pressure in Harvick’s car again, this time adding a half pound to the right front. That didn’t work either. He dropped to 10th place.
“I’m starting to lose my mind on the restarts,” Harvick told Martin over the radio. “It feels like the freaking tires are flat.”
Harvick battled to stay in the top 10 until the next=2 0round of pit stops. The race leaders pitted under green flag conditions on lap 159. By lap 166, Harvick was back up to sixth place.
Harvick pitted again on lap 184. Martin asked Harvick how the car was running. Harvick said it was too loose. Martin decided to make a track bar adjustment and leave the air pressure in the tires the same. That wasn’t the right combination either.
By lap 205, Harvick dropped to eighth place. He was complaining that he couldn’t handle the car and that it was driving sideways.
“It’s loose, loose, loose, loose,” Harvick said over the radio. But after the race, Harvick said Martin made the right decision.
“That was the right call because of how the car reacted to the air pressure adjustments,” Harvick said.
Harvick came in for what was supposed to be his last pit stop on lap 237. But after two more yellow and one red caution, Harvick pitted with four laps to go, giving up 10th place. He went from 15th to 10th with fresh tires over the last three laps.
“All in all it was a good day,” Martin said. “It wasn’t the kind of day we were needing, but it’s something we can build on anyway.”