Kevin Harvick said he tried to find a “safe spot” in the Phoenix NASCAR Cup race while attempting to salvage his championship bid in a damaged car.
Harvick lost his guaranteed place in the four-way title shootout when his win at Texas the previous week was declared ‘encumbered’ due to a rear spoiler violation.
The points penalty for that offence put him back to fourth in the standings with just a three-point cushion over Kurt Busch behind.
He then took pole at Phoenix and dominated the first 73 laps before his right-rear tyre deflated just as stage one was ending.
As most of the outside contenders for ‘championship four’ spots got involved in late-race crashes, Harvick moved back up to fifth place and cemented his title shootout place despite his Stewart-Haas Ford carrying damage from the puncture.
“It never really drove as well after that, but we kept ourselves in position all day,” he said.
“At the end, with everybody wrecking and all over the place, we just needed to stay out of trouble and try to find a safe spot there.”
He believes the timing of the tyre problem was relatively fortunate.
“I felt it start to go down going into Turn 1 and just slowed down to the point where I thought I could at least make it back to the pits and not hit the wall,” Harvick said.
“It came at an OK time because it didn’t tear the car up.
“In that instance you just hope that the sway bar [anti-rollbar] stays connected, and that’s really the biggest worry.
“I hadn’t looked under the car and seen how bad it dragged it all off, but it was good enough to keep going, and the sway bar was still hooked up, so that was the main thing.”
The main threat to Harvick’s championship decider place was the possibility of his SHR team-mate Aric Almirola winning.
But despite being up to second behind eventual winner Kyle Busch by a late restart, Almirola ended up fourth.
“I fought my guts out inside the racecar and gave it everything we had,” said Almirola.
“We took a seventh or eighth-place car and the next thing you know we were in position to win the race.
“What we’ve accomplished in one year is a hell of a lot, but right now all I can think about is being inside of Kyle down there and just not being able to get the power down to get up beside him.
“It’s bittersweet. It was a good day for us, but we needed to win and we didn’t win.”
Harvick is having to complete the season with stand-in crew and car chiefs because regular personnel Rodney Childers and Robert Smith were suspended as part of the team’s punishment for the Texas infraction.
He said substitutes Tony Gibson and Nick DeFazio “did a great job filling in and everybody kept their head about them”.