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Kevin Harvick Loses Lead After Late 4-Tire Stop

2023 Cup Phoenix I Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (Credit: NKP)

Welcome to the latest edition of Monday Morning Pit Box, where we break down the critical calls that shape the outcome of each week’s race. We take a look through the minds of those on pit road and, at times, call atop race control as well.

There is no other way to slice it. Going toward the closing laps, Kevin Harvick‘s farewell tour was heading toward having an early-season win. But as what typically happens in the highest levels of NASCAR, a late-race caution changes everything, as NASCAR on FOX broadcaster Mike Joy often remarks with a nod toward legendary crew chief and analyst Larry McReynolds.

That caution with 10 laps to go at Phoenix Raceway, brought out by Harrison Burton, did indeed change things, as it brought the leaders to pit road. It put Harvick in a challenging position – take four fresh tires and gain insurance in case a race goes into multiple overtimes or go for fuel only or just two tires, hoping that the worn tires on the opposite side will hold up.

Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers opted for the latter. When six drivers behind Harvick were among those opting for just two tires, it punted Harvick back to seventh, where he would fight traffic, track position and a lack of laps, only being able to finish fifth.

Childers was in a no-win position here. It’s easy to say, ‘take two tires,’ but what if one of those aged tires fails in the closing laps? Then, Harvick goes from a top-five to around 20th. That’s a good chunk of points, and if a postseason spot comes down to points for the No. 4, that’s a risk that could become bigger.

Busch overcomes misadventures from pit stop

Kyle Busch rallied late to finish eighth on Sunday at Phoenix. It came after the No. 8 pit crew had an adventurous turn of events in the second stage, which uprooted them from the top 10 and into an uphill battle.

Busch was hit by not one, but two issues on the same stop: a speeding penalty and an uncontrolled tire penalty.

The good news for Busch is that he was able to rally back; he and the No. 8 team did not let one problem beat them again later in the race. That mental toughness is something any new team and driver needs to develop if they are to contend for a title in the playoffs, and this group appears to have figured that out.

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