Kevin Harvick crossing into snakebit status after Fontana tire woes

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Kevin Harvick has been the most consistently competitive of the four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers so far this season. But ever since his victory earlier this month at Phoenix, Harvick has been left wanting for results.

In Las Vegas, he was a threat to win until his car suffered a wheel hub failure. Then at Bristol, a possible Top-5 result went out the window when his oil line broke with 50 laps to go – making him one of many lap leaders to find trouble in Thunder Valley.

Unfortunately for “Happy,” things didn’t turn out any better on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway, where he saw another great run brought down by bad luck.

Harvick was holding steady in the Top 5 early on in the Auto Club 400 until his left-rear tire went down on the No. 4 Jimmy John’s-backed Chevrolet. To make matters worse, the tire then disintegrated enough to inflict noticeable damage to the car’s left-rear quarter panel.

Subsequent repairs sent him all the way to the back of the field, but Harvick’s car didn’t lose its pace and he was already back within the Top 5 as the race crossed the halfway mark.

But on Lap 139, Harvick was victimized again by a second left-rear tire failure that did even more damage to the car. This time, Harvick fell three laps off the pace through repairs, and was only able to make one of those laps up before finishing 36th at the checkered flag.

“It’s kind of the same story as the last few weeks,” he said. “We’ll have a really strong run going, and something happens and we don’t get the finish that we deserve. It’s really frustrating.

“I’m proud of the effort that the guys on this No. 4 team put in every week. It isn’t for lack of effort. It’s just unfortunate situations or part failures that have us trending in the wrong direction.”

The three consecutive poor results have sent Harvick from fourth in the championship following his win at Phoenix to 25th, at 97 points behind new leader Carl Edwards.

Still, that Phoenix triumph – which just about ensures him a chance to race for a title in the Chase – and his overall competitiveness should keep him from losing too much sleep.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.