Up and Down Night for Harvick

Harvick retired to the garage area on lap 309.

Harvick retired to the garage area on lap 309. The team was credited with a finish of 33rd.

Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil team endured a series of highs and lows on Sunday evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway before finishing 33rd, despite having an extremely fast race car. With just one race remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Bakersfield, Calif., native remains the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader in the overall standings by 219 points.

After qualifying a disappointing 29th on Saturday afternoon, crew chief Gil Martin and the No. 29 crew made a wide assortment of changes to their Chevrolet Impala. It didn't take long for Harvick to reap the benefit of those changes Sunday night, as an estimated 93,200 fans at Atlanta Motor Speedway watched the red and yellow machine set a torrid pace in the opening stages of the 325-lap affair.

The first 133 laps were run under green-flag conditions, and Harvick cracked the top 15 by lap 36. He made a routine green-flag pit stop on lap 48, giving up the 14th position on the track. Martin and the Shell-Pennzoil team changed all four tires with a minor air pressure adjustment, and added fuel. Quick work by the crew put Harvick back on the track, and when the pit stops had cycled through, the point leader was scored 12th.

By lap 79, Harvick entered the top 10, and was consistently the fastest car on the race track. He was scored ninth at lap 80, eighth at lap 87, seventh on lap 94, and sixth one lap later. Another series of green-flag pit stops started at lap 97, and Harvick hit pit road on lap 98. No changes were called from Martin, and the team changed all four tires and added fuel. After the second set of pit stops had cycled through, Harvick was eighth.

It only took 20 laps for Harvick to climb inside the top five, and at the night's first caution flag on lap 133, he was scored fourth. Martin and Harvick agreed to make an air pressure adjustment, and the No. 29 driver came to pit road for tires and fuel. The pit crew held serve, and Harvick restarted in fourth on lap 138.

Racing action was slowed after the No. 11 car suffered an engine failure on lap 145. All of the lead-lap cars took the opportunity to pit again, and as Harvick left his pit stall, the valve stem on the left-rear tire snapped off. As the tire went flat, Harvick had to pit again and gave up his spot inside the top five.

After that second pit stop, Harvick restarted 15th on lap 152, and started to work his way back to the front of the field. He was back inside the top 10 on lap 173, and was back inside the top five just 13 laps later. Harvick got as high as third, but the night went south on lap 253.

A series of green-flag pit stops had begun, and Harvick attempted to save all the time he could as he approached the entrance to pit road. Unfortunately, he carried too much speed and slid his tires, missing the opening to the pits. As he drove back around the track to come back to pit road, his left-front tire exploded, and caused significant damage to the left-front fender of the No. 29 car.

The team made numerous stops to attempt to rebuild the fender, and Harvick kept the car out of trouble for the next 50 laps as the team took every opportunity to pit under the next three caution flags, but the damage was, eventually, deemed terminal, and Harvick retired to the garage area on lap 309. The team was credited with a finish of 33rd.

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