Kevin Harvick falls just short of first Ford win at Pocono

Rusty Jarrett/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Kevin Harvick fell just .139 seconds short of earning his first victory under the Ford Performance banner at Pocono Raceway.

Under most circumstances, such a result would be heartbreaking. But after risking a blown motor with a missed shift multiple laps earlier, the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was left with a sense of relief.

Harvick was running third on the final lap of Stage 2 when a missed shift going down the straightaway between Turns 2 and 3 left the Bakersfield, California native’s No. 4 Ford creeping slowly into Pocono’s final turn.

Incredibly, Harvick’s losses amounted only to a one position drop when Martin Truex, Jr. passed him during the exchange, with the Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) shoe finishing fourth in the stage and continuing on to the end of the race.

“The guys did a great job.  Really proud of the engine shop,” Harvick said. ” I don’t know how the engine didn’t blow up with the third‑to‑second shift. Obviously the durability is good enough in the engines to do that.”

With the car still running correctly, Harvick’s SHR team played the correct strategy down the stretch, pitting for tires on after the day’s final caution flew with 19 laps remaining to set the Californian up for a run to the checkered flag.

Harvick was gridded sixth on the final restart, but quickly rose through the field to second. He reeled Blaney’s No. 21 Ford in over the closing laps, but couldn’t overcome his aerodynamic deficit to the leader to muster a move for the win.

“We ran (Blaney) down, just never could charge the corner hard enough to get to his bumper,” Harvick said. “That was our only weakness.  I mean, we had the car where we needed it pretty much in every corner, just couldn’t charge any of the corners like I needed to with the stopping power that I had. Just really had to manage that, but everywhere else, the car handled flawlessly all day and didn’t really make any adjustments on it other than a little bit of air here and there.”

While he didn’t get to victory lane, Harvick scored his strongest finish since SHR made the switch from Chevrolet to Ford for the 2017 season. The run was the 35-time MENCS winner’s fifth top five of the year, besting his previous best finishes of third at Bristol Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

The run also allowed Harvick to maintain third in the points standings. He leaves Pocono with a 121-point edge on Matt Kenseth, the first driver outside of the preliminary playoff grid.

A good points day alone isn’t the result Harvick may have hoped for entering the day, but considering just how close he came to a blown motor and early exit, the 41-year-old was content to settle for a runner-up result.  He was also happy to see Blaney – one of the sport’s rising stars – be the one to hold him off.

“You know, these young guys winning is important for our sport,” Harvick said. “Obviously as our team, we want to win, but these young guys have to get into Victory Lane to get these fans that don’t like me and Kyle and the rest of the guys, that fan base that’s available and new, the younger crowd has to win, and today Ryan was able to do that, so not only is it good for him, but it’s good for the whole sport.”

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