Poor Pit Strategy: Harvick, Childers Have Made Bad Choices



By Jerry Bonkowski

Sometimes, quick success can make you feel infallible and bulletproof.

When Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers won the Sprint Cup championship in their first season together at Stewart-Haas Racing last season, it seemed like everything that could go right did.

And given the way Harvick dominated the first 26 races this season, with two wins and 10 runner-up finishes, many thought it might be a slam dunk for Harvick and Childers to repeat again as champs in 2015.

But given what the pair has experienced in the first two races of the Chase, can anyone come up with a reasonable answer as to how could these reigning champions have messed up so badly.

Not just once, but twice.

Just because Harvick and Childers won last year’s championship, someone must have forgotten to send them the memo that what they did in 2014 means absolutely nothing in 2015.

That the duo gambled and lost so badly at both Chicagoland and New Hampshire is almost unfathomable.

Did they really think the fender rub that occurred when Harvick’s car was sideswiped by Jimmie Johnson’s at Chicagoland was going to fix itself?

Three laps after it happened, Harvick spins into the wall and ends up with a devastating 42nd place finish. If that wasn’t bad enough, he ultimately wound up 15th in the 16-driver Chase standings, 43 points behind series leader Matt Kenseth.

If Harvick had just come into pits and had his crew the tire at Chicagoland, odds are likely he would have finished a lot higher than he did.

Which leads us to this past Sunday at New Hampshire. Having last pitted on Lap 239 of the scheduled 300-lap event, Harvick was told by Childers with about 35 laps to go that they were likely going to be about six laps short on fuel of making it to the finish.

Childers told Harvick to save fuel – which he did, but ultimately just not enough.

End result, Harvick ran out of gas with three laps left after dominating the race that Matt Kenseth ultimately won.

Even worse, Harvick finished 21st at Loudon, remains 15th in the standings and is in a must-win situation heading into Dover.

And even that may not be enough for Harvick to stave off becoming one of the first four drivers to fail to move on to the next round..

Just like the tire situation at Chicagoland, why in the world didn’t Harvick come in for some fuel with, say, 10 or 15 laps left in the Loudon race?

Sure, maybe he might not have won, but it’d be a fairly good bet that he’d have bounced back for potentially a top-10 finish with some extra gas back in his tank. Like Harvick, several other drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch likewise gambled and suffered less-than-optimal finishes because they also ran out of fuel.

If Harvick had simply pitted in both races and not gambled, my bet is he’d likely be in the middle (or higher) of the Chase standings heading into Dover.

Instead of losing 43 points after Chicagoland and another 20 points after New Hampshire (for a grand total of 63 points out of first), maybe Harvick might have lost a total of just 30 or so points if he simply would have pitted at both places.

The only way Harvick can avoid being eliminated after Dover is if the 15 other Chase drivers all get knocked out of the race in a big wreck.

And we all know how unlikely that is.

The next time a publisher releases a new book on well-known sayings and phrases, don’t be surprised if there’s a photo of Harvick and Childers slapping their respective foreheads and next to the phrase, “What the heck was I thinking?”

Jerry Bonkowski writes for NBCSports.com’s NASCAR Talk. Follow him on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.