Look, no disrespect meant to Kevin Harvick; he's a fine fellow and a top-flight driver. But his win at Phoenix, his first victory in more than a year, was at best the third-best story coming out of the Valley of the Sun. The Jeff Gordon/Clint Bowyer team brawl and the fact that Brad Keselowski took a substantial points lead eclipsed what was a strong finishing run by Harvick.
While most of the attention in the race focused on the Keselowski-Jimmie Johnson duel, Kyle Busch was busy owning the majority of the AdvoCare 500. But last season, Kevin Harvick earned a rep as a closer, vulturing away wins like a third-down running back vulturing away short-yardage touchdowns. And he appeared ready to do the same thing on Sunday, snagging a win away from Busch at the last second.
But then the Bowyer-Gordon fiasco happened, with Harvick only a few feet from a white flag that would have won him the race. As a result, he and the rest of the field had to run a green-white-checker, and naturally, that didn't end without drama either.
On the first lap, Danica Patrick spun up into the wall as Harvick was crossing the start-finish line. Although Patrick was sitting laterally on the track, NASCAR did not throw the caution flag, allowing her to drive out of the way while the rest of the field raced back to the finish line. (The other option would have been to throw the caution flag, freezing the field and giving Harvick the win.)
All well and good, except for the fact that Patrick's car was leaking oil, a fact that NASCAR didn't notice until drivers started slipping all over the place in Harvick's wake.
"At the time she come all the way around and she was out of harm's way," NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton said. "We didn't see any fluid or anything, she rode around on the apron, and when she pulled up on the racetrack, there was smoke, it looked like tire smoke. It's easy to look back on it obviously and wish that you did something different, but at the time it didn't appear like there was any fluid that was coming out of the car."
Harvick, naturally, disagreed with that assessment. "You can't throw the caution flag as fast as you can throw it one time and then just let everybody run through a whole straightaway full of oil," he said. "Those are the guys that are going to have to look themselves in the mirror, the guy who's calling the races, and decide if they're doing a good job."
Bottom line, this was a much-needed win for Harvick, who's had a forgettable on-track 2012. And while this led to the always-awkward scene of a lame-duck winner and his owner sharing a podium, both Harvick and Richard Childress promised that 2013 would be another championship-run season for the 29 team.