The build up to Sunday’s NASCAR Championship race was dominated by one major theme. In 2010, Denny Hamlin had a commanding lead until a fuel miscalculation led him to have to pit late in the race. He ended up finishing twelve spots behind the eventual winner Jimmie Johnson. The title was Hamlin’s to lose, and he lost it.
This year, the rules were different, but late in the race, there were only two cars with a legit chance. Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Hamlin and Harvick were running in the top 3 for the last 100 laps. It was setting up to be exactly what NASCAR wanted, a race to the finish for the Championship. Instead, Hamlin took an inexplicable gamble, and the race was over at that exact moment.
With 12 laps to go, there was a caution flag. All of the cars lined up to go into pit road for fresh tires. Denny Hamlin acted like he was going to pit, only to jump off the line at the last second and stay out on the track. In theory, this was a good move. Hamlin secures the race lead, and Harvick, Newman, and Logano have to fight through the traffic to get back to the front. Unfortunately, Hamlin and his crew chief Darian Grubb, misread the situation. Because it was the championship race, many of the other drivers did their best to stay out of the way. Let the four finalists decide it themselves on the track. So every other car went to the pit.
Hamlin had the lead, but his tires had wear on them. Ryan Newman saw what Hamlin did, and only took two tires, which let him restart in third place. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano did a full four tire pit stop. Logano could have been a factor down the stretch, but a jack malfunction caused him to have a 25 second pit stop. Logano restarted 24th after his disastrous pit stop. He was eliminated at that very moment. Harvick had an excellent stop, and restarted 7th.
A six position lead with ten to go is hard enough to keep when you both have fresh tires. Harvick roared back on the restart and overtook the race lead with ease. Hamlin fell to seventh place as his tires could not keep up. The last three laps were a sprint between Harvick and Ryan Newman, but Newman only had two fresh tires. He was no match, and Kevin Harvick cruised to the 2014 Sprint Cup Championship. A title Hamlin gave away. Grubb admitted as such after the race when he said “I made the wrong call.”
Kevin Harvick is a deserving Sprint Cup Champion. He had the second most wins this season, and led the most laps. 2137, 597 more than the second highest racer. The only reason it wasn’t a truly dominant season was car trouble early in the year led to poor finishes. When he was on the track though, Harvick was the man to beat.
97 days until the 2015 Daytona 500.