Kevin Harvick: ‘I’ve been punched in the gut a lot harder’

Kevin Harvick’s career-best NASCAR Cup Series season still has one more race but it won’t include a chance at a second championship.

Coming off a subpar finish at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend, Harvick entered Sunday’s race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway with a 42-point cushion over the cut off to advance to the title race.

After a myriad of problems during the race, Harvick’s title hopes came down to the final of 500 laps. He basically needed one more position on the track to advance on points.

But much like the remainder of the race went, Harvick’s efforts to turn Kyle Busch and pick up another spot in the running order didn’t turn out well.

Both drivers spun but Busch was able to continue on, while Harvick ended up credited with 17th place, the last car on the lead lap.

“Look, these championships aren’t like winning like Petty and Earnhardt used to win them. You have to put them together three weeks at a time and it comes down to one race and it came down to one race for us tonight and came up short,” Harvick said.

“We just weren’t good and everybody on our (team) just kept battling to make it better and gave ourselves a shot there at the end. I tried to drive into the door of (Kyle Busch) to get that last point to make it and spun him out.

“I don’t usually drive like that, but you’re trying to make it to the Championship 4 and doing everything you can. Just came up short. Just not the night we needed.”

Harvick’s No. 4 Ford appeared off from the start of the race but he got into big trouble when he was forced to pit under green in Stage 2 for a flat tire.

He fell two laps down and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make them up, as the race leaders were putting cars down a lap faster than cautions were coming out.

Harvick eventually made it back on the lead lap in the final stage and then had work feverishly to make up positions as Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin had collected stage points during the race while he struggled.

Despite the inability to compete for the series title, Harvick remained adamant he “had a great year.”

“You have to put together a few weeks and we didn’t put together these last few weeks like we needed to and just came up short,” he said. “I’ve been punched in the gut a lot harder.

“We won nine races, had a great year, and, like I said, the championship is kind of a bonus. It would be great to win it, obviously, but I’d rather go through the year and win races and do the things that we did and just came up short.”

Asked about the driver with the most wins in the season unable to compete for the series title, Harvick said he isn’t the first to experience it.

“That’s the system that we work in and it’s obviously skewed more towards entertainment than the whole year, so it’s exciting to watch and has that format that goes with it and you take them as they come and we race within the system that they give us and do our best,” he said.

“It just didn’t work out for us. The last three weeks didn’t go exactly how we needed them to and you’ve got to be right when you get to this Round of 8.”

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