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.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.