Kevin Harvick was cruising along in the top five on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, likely heading for a finish that would all but guarantee him a berth in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Then he came to pit road for routine service, and his entire race -- and prospects of leaving Kansas in a super-comfortable position -- came unraveled.
With the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing pit crew trying to squeeze every ounce of fuel into Harvick's No. 4 Chevy with just over 50 laps to go, the gas can came falling to the pavement -- outside of Harvick's pit box -- as the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion sped away.
NASCAR subsequently issued Harvick a stop-and-go penalty for his team removing equipment from its assigned pit area, and with it Harvick went from running in the top five to running 24th and a lap down.
Harvick was able to claw his way back to a 16th-place finish, but never returned to the lead lap. Of greater consequence for his hopes of a second consecutive title, Harvick slid from second in points to being in a three-way tie for fifth, and is now a meager seven points ahead of ninth-place Kyle Busch, the first of four drivers on the wrong side of the cutoff for advancing to the next round heading into next weekend's Chase elimination race at Talladega.
"We're lucky to come out of it as good as we did with our team," Harvick said on pit road after Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400. "We didn't have a great weekend, a lot of things falling on and off, and now we've got to go to Talladega and have a good week. All in all, it could have been a lot worse, and everybody kept digging."
Harvick's crew chief, Rodney Childers, tried to put the mishap with the gas can into perspective.
"That's the first time that's happened for us," Childers told FOXSports.com. "You don't want that kind of thing to happen, but I felt like we had a third- or fourth-place car, and our fuel mileage wasn't very good and we had to pit a couple laps before those guys were, and then we were going to have to stretch it on the next one.
"Basically you had to tell the gasman to try to stay with the car as long as you can and get absolutely as many drops of fuel in there as you can, and it just got hung up as we were leaving. Even what he did following the car out (of the pit box), it still wasn't full, so that's part of it."
Harvick later had an opportunity to get back on the lead lap with a wave-around, but he and fellow Chase driver Martin Truex Jr. were unable to do so when Jimmie Johnson opted to remain on track under a caution.
The move by the No. 48 team was a curious one, since Johnson stayed out on old tires while the rest of the leaders pitted. Harvick would have returned to the lead lap if Johnson had pitted.
"I'm not sure what they were up to," Childers said of the No. 48 team's decision to stay out.
Harvick's efforts were also hampered by a broken shifter in the late going that created a real hassle for the Bakersfield, Calif., native on restarts.
"Just really hard to shift it from second to third (gear), just because there was nothing to grab onto for leverage, but in the end, the car vibrated all day," Harvick said. "I'm lucky something else didn't break."
Asked if he was frustrated by how the race played out, Harvick didn't exactly debunk the suggestion.
"I'm not real super-excited about everything that happened," he said. "There's nothing you can do about it."
As for Talladega -- a track where virtually anything can happen at any time -- Childers said the team won't base its strategy around it's volatile position in the Chase standings.
"It just comes down to going and racing every week," he said. "We don't really treat it as a points race -- we go and do the best job we can every week, and that's the same thing we'll do next week. If it's good enough, it's good enough. If it's not, it's not."