Deteriorating handling dooms Kevin Harvick's title shot
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."
Brad Keselowski falls short in bid for second title
Quite frankly, Brad Keselowski didn't have the car to add a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title to his 2012 championship without a strategic miracle.
Accordingly, on Lap 197 of 267, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe forced the issue by short-pitting after 32 laps of green-flag racing. After Keselowski brought his No. 2 Team Penske Ford to pit road, Championship 4 drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick followed two laps later. Kyle Busch stayed on track, planning to bridge the final 102 laps with one pit stop.
But a caution on Lap 227 for Kurt Busch's spin in Turn 4 bunched the title contenders for a restart on Lap 234, and Keselowski finished seventh 34 laps later, as Martin Truex Jr. won the Ford Eco-Boost 400 and the championship.
"We ran as hard as we could and put it all out there and just basically didn't have enough speed," Keselowski said. "On the mile-and-a-halves we weren't as good as the 78 (Truex) and 18 (Kyle Busch) and those guys. This last race coming down to a mile-and-a-half (speedway) didn't particularly bode well for us, but my team ran as hard as they could run.
"They made some great calls-Paul Wolfe and everybody-and put ourselves in position every chance we could to make the most out of the opportunities that existed without just being lightning fast, but it wasn't there."
Danica Patrick's last race with Stewart-Haas ends in a crash
On Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Danica Patrick announced plans to finish her racing career with runs in the 2018 Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in cars still to be determined.
But Patrick would have preferred that her last ride in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford not end as early as it did. On Lap 142 of 267, a flat tire sent Patrick's car rocketing into the Turn 2 wall, collecting the Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne in the process.
Patrick steered the crippled car to the entrance to pit road, but exited the Ford after it caught fire.
"I hit the wall (earlier) in (Turns) 3 and 4 and got some fender rub on the tire, and it blew the tire," Patrick said. "I went a couple of laps and there was smoke in the car, but they thought it was all right, but it wasn't."
After exiting the infield care center, Patrick wasn't ready to start thinking about the Daytona 500.
"What I'm not looking forward to is I have to go sit in my bus and wait for everyone to get done with the race before I can go home," she laughed. "That sucks, but I think that what's coming ahead is bright for me and for the way it feels, so I'm excited."
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---