HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Kevin Harvick faced the longest odds of the three championship contenders, and in the end couldn't overcome a troublesome car or a 34-point deficit.
But as he has done for most of his career, the 37-year-old finished strong, with a 10th-place run in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start with Richard Childress Racing.
"We just weren't very good," said Harvick, who held on to third in the final points standings. "Just couldn't turn like we needed to. We had one set of tires ... I don't know what was wrong with (them), but just like always these guys ... kept after it. We were able to salvage something out of the night.
"Obviously it's not what we wanted, but we came back and were way better at the end than what we were in the beginning. It's what we've done all year and I'm just proud of everybody and thank them for everything that they have done."
Harvick, who has spent his entire Cup career, which began in 2001, with team owner Richard Childress, was apologetic when the race ended.
"I'm sorry about that," he radioed his team once the race had ended.
"Nothing to be ashamed of," Childress said. "We were coming at the end."
A winner 23 times in points races, Harvick will leave RCR to join Stewart-Haas Racing for 2014. His third-place points finish equaled his career best, where he has now finished three times.
He won four races in 2013, including two in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Although trailing eventual series champion Jimmie Johnson by a large points margin when the race started, Harvick was still mathematically alive heading into the Ford EcoBoost 400. But Johnson avoided potential disasters, as did Matt Kenseth, who wound up second in the standings -- and in the race.
Harvick briefly led early, a lap under caution here, out front on a restart there. But changes to the car weren't working, and Harvick soon found himself falling back through the field.
"Can't ... drive it; it's so tight," Harvick radioed to crew chief Gil Martin. "It's amazing how we can (expletive) it up that bad."
Eventually, Martin brought his driver to pit road earlier than scheduled, and while he lost a lap under green, eventually through pit cycles Harvick was back on the lead lap.
A two-tire call late put him back up front just past the 200-lap mark, but Harvick still didn't have the car capable of holding the lead.
"Today was no different than any other day," he said. "Sometimes you take off with it and sometimes you don't. We just kept working on it and salvaged a top-10 out of it.
"I'm happy ... I'm happy with everything that we have been able to accomplish as a group. We had a great year knowing what the circumstances were and we have won a lot of races, a lot of the (top) races. We have won Nationwide championships."
Only weeks ago, it seemed as if the ties between the two were damaged beyond repair. Harvick lashed out at teammate Ty Dillon, Childress' grandson, after contact between the two in the closing laps of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville.
But the harsh words were dealt with, and the group soldiered on.
"I think Martinsville brought a lot of things to a head and we were able to talk about a lot of things," Harvick said. "Really this was the way I would want to leave, with everybody shaking hands and happy that we have been together and been successful together.
"I can't wait for our first hunt together as friends. That will be good times."
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