It wasn’t the finish Kevin Harvick was looking for after leading 101 laps of the AdvoCare 500, but fifth place clinched his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Harvick seems to have revived his season after reuniting with former crew chief Gil Martin three weeks ago.
Shane Wilson replaced Martin at the start of the season as Harvick sought a change to kick-start the No. 29 program, but, despite consistent runs, Harvick has been missing from the front pack much of the season.
He has been 15th (at Bristol) and fifth since Martin’s return.
Harvick said he had a strong car in the first half of Sunday night’s race.
“It wasn’t bad in the second half, but [with] about 150 laps to go we just got too tight getting into the corner and never could get that out of it,” he said. “We led some laps [and] finished in the top five, and the last couple of months hadn’t been great.
“I just have to thank Gil for coming back with everything we put him through. It wasn’t a great situation. It takes a big man to do what he did, and things are going in the right direction.
“That is really what our goal was over the two weeks here was to not make any big mistakes. It’s no secret that we haven’t run well over the last couple of months.”
Harvick sits ninth in Sprint Cup points and officially sealed a spot in the Chase Sunday night.
He and Martin will begin pursuit of Harvick’s first Cup title Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway.
“I feel like we hadn’t missed a beat,” Harvick said. “It took a lot of conversations and things to try to convince him to come back and do it. Obviously, for myself I learned a big lesson, and it takes a big man to do what he did.”
Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are the only drivers in the top 10 in points without a win this season. Harvick’s fifth place Sunday night was his fourth top-five finish of the year.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.