Kevin Harvick penalties alter course of NASCAR playoffs, add intrigue to Phoenix

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs received a huge jolt when officials announced massive penalties to driver Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team.

Harvick had dominated the playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, and his victory served as guaranteed admission to be among the final four drivers who will contest the championship Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And then it didn’t.

NASCAR swept that guarantee away after a thorough inspection of Harvick’s Ford at its Research and Development Center, standard for the winning car after every race, revealed that a part of his car was reconfigured to give him an advantage at Texas. Inspectors at the R&D Center found an illegal spoiler that they believe produced an aerodynamic advantage for Harvick when he drove through the turns at Texas.

The penalties issued Wednesday were costly and drastically altered the state of play in the Round of 8, not just for Harvick but the six other drivers who are hoping to land a berth in the championship round. Joey Logano clinched his spot with a victory at Martinsville Speedway in the first race of the third round two weeks ago.

Although Harvick technically gets to keep his win at Texas, he was stripped of the ability to use it to lock himself into the championship race. And while that was the biggest and most obvious setback, NASCAR tacked on additional penalties to the No. 4 team. Harvick was docked 40 points, which dropped him from the top of the playoff standings to fourth, just three points above the cutline.

He will also lose the expertise of the two most important members of his No. 4. team as NASCAR suspended crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith for two races — Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and the championship race at Homestead. Childers was also fined $75,000.

All of that could spell disaster for Harvick’s bid to add a second championship to the one he claimed in 2014. Yet for fans of the No. 4 team, there is a small silver lining: the location of Sunday’s race.

If there is one track on the Cup schedule where Harvick should feel confident about overcoming adversity, it’s ISM Raceway. No driver, active or retired, has had more success in Phoenix than Harvick.

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