One of the most impressive performances I saw Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway came from the No. 4 car. With all the adversity that Kevin Harvick and the team faced, to still come home with a third-place finish is truly remarkable. In addition to a couple tire issues and a couple pit-road issues, Kevin also had a problem with his transmission popping out of gear. Kevin was trying to keep that shifter in gear while trying to do laps at 180 mph with competitors inches away from him.
It reminded me of a situation we ran into years back when I was working for Junior Johnson and the No. 11 car with Cale Yarborough behind the wheel. We were at Martinsville. Cale was in those big ol' Monte Carlos we used to run back then, when he got spun out and hit the wall pretty square. It bent the frame down and coil-bound the back end to where he didn't have a lot of shocks or flex from the rear springs.
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That didn't stop Cale, because anybody who knows Cale knows he was tougher than a pine knot. He ran the rest of the race with the car in that shape, but when the race was over he was totally given out. I remember that I likened what he did to a person sitting on a paint-can shaker for 400 laps at Martinsville. We found out that because of that, Cale literally had internal injuries. The doctors told us his kidneys were bruised. He had blood in his urine. That was just Cale, though. He had the heart and desire of a champion.
I think Kevin showed the same thing Sunday. I can't imagine hanging onto the shifter in that car with it vibrating so badly and trying to basically drive the car one-handed. It showed me that Kevin had a lot of focus and determination when basically the chips are down. Let's face it: Sunday was the third race from the end of the season, and Kevin is right there in the championship hunt trying to defend his title.
It would have been so easy for him to radio in and say he couldn't drive the car and the crew needed to fix the problem first. Kevin didn't do that. His will to compete and to win is second to none. It's instances like this that make me laugh when some people ask the question of whether race car drivers are truly athletes. I don't know of any other sport where you have to be as mentally tough as NASCAR.
We don't have timeouts in our sport. When a football player gets his bell rung on a play, they stop play and the medical staff attends to him. It's the same way in baseball when a player gets hit with a pitch or an outfielder collides with the wall trying to make a catch. In racing you don't get that opportunity. When something goes wrong, you just have to work right through it, because the race goes on.
Again, to me, Kevin showed his indomitable spirit to want to win. He willed himself and the team that if they could just keep him up front, he would the rest. As mentioned earlier, the shifter issue wasn't their only issue of the day. The thing was no one panicked or gave up. They worked through it all and came home in third. That finish actually moved Kevin up a spot in the Chase points, to third position.
Kevin's determination and grit continue to surprise me as to the depths he will dig to get back to Homestead for an opportunity to win another title.