Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished second in the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway Sunday afternoon, scoring his 10th top-two finish in the 14 points-paying races of 2015.
The reigning Sprint Cup champion started fifth and raced his Chevrolet into the lead by lap 32. Harvick doubled his previous laps-led total of 10 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway by lap 51, just as the first caution flag of the day was thrown. Harvick pitted for four tires and restarted the race third position. After a congested restart his Chevrolet fell to fifth, but within two laps he worked his way back to third.
During the lap-70 caution period, crew chief Rodney Childers opted to keep the car out on the track, and Harvick led the field to the green flag. The Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team held onto the lead for 18 laps, until a debris caution came out on lap 88. The team welcomed the caution, as lap 88 was the last lap of the No. 4’s fuel window. Due to the previous decision not to pit on lap 70, the team was forced to take four tires when many competitors opted to pit for two tires. The strategy left Harvick in the 12th position on the lap-92 restart. However, he raced forward quickly and put the No. 4 Chevrolet into second by lap 103.
The caution flag came out again on lap 130 for a turn-one accident, and Harvick was able to regain the lead for the lap-133 restart. Unfortunately, Harvick’s car wasn’t able to get a run into turn one and lost the lead to Martin Truex Jr. on lap 134. After an accident on lap 139, Harvick fell back into third but raced back into the second position following the final caution of the day on lap 144.
The Bakersfield, California, native ran second the remainder of the race, but by the time the checkered flag was thrown Harvick had closed the gap on Truex’s No. 78 from approximately three seconds to just over one second. Harvick was credited with leading 39 laps around the 2.5-mile triangle to bring his laps-led total this season to a series-best 1,162. This mark eclipses Harvick’s laps-led total for every one of his Sprint Cup seasons with the exception of last year when he led 2,137 laps en route to the Sprint Cup championship.
“The handling was great,” said Harvick, who recorded his seventh top-five finish in 29 career points races at Pocono. “Our Budweiser Chevy was really fast, but we were just terrible on the restarts getting going. We would go into defense mode there trying to just keep from going from fifth to sixth or something like that and try to minimize the damage. All in all it was a great, fast car; we just have to do something different for the restarts.”
Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for SHR, started from the pole and finished fifth to earn his 12th top-five in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at Pocono.
Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 21st after starting 28th.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 37th after a spin sent her into the wall in turn one. Her crew was able to repair the car, allowing her to finish the race.
Truex won the Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400 to score his third career Sprint Cup victory, his first this season and his first at Pocono.
Harvick finished 1.346 seconds behind Truex, while Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Busch rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 31 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 160-lap race.
With round 14 of 36 complete, Harvick leads SHR in the championship point standings. He is first with 559 points, 39 ahead of second-place Truex. Kurt Busch is 12th with 379 points, 180 out of first. Patrick is 20th with 328 points, 231 out of first. Stewart is 27th with 253 points, 306 out of first.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Michigan 400 on Sunday, June 14 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.