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.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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