At one point the Stewart-Haas Racing cars ran 1-2-3, seemingly poised for a stellar afternoon at Pocono Raceway.
Yet much like its year, the results failed to fully materialize Sunday, with Kurt Busch (third place) the only one of four SHR drivers to finish in the top 10. Teammates Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, each of whom was capable of winning the Pocono 400, were undone by a speeding penalty (Stewart) and a flat tire (Harvick).
Stewart finished 13th while Harvick was a spot behind in 14th. Both left Pocono feeling like the day could have brought more.
"100 percent driver error," Stewart said. "I gave my guys grief last week with a sixth-place run, thought we should run in the top three, and then I threw it away this week. Had an awesome Chevy all day -- great race, just the driver screwed it up this week."
Stewart led 24 laps Sunday, only the second time he's been out front all season as the owner-driver continues to work his way back from a broken leg sustained in August of last year.
Harvick never led, though he did have one of the fastest cars -- much like he has had throughout 2014. But outside of wins at Phoenix and Darlington, this season has been defined by parts failures, mistakes on pit road -- by driver and crew -- and plenty of missed opportunities.
A week ago Harvick was leading at Dover when a valve stem broke, forcing him to pit road under the green flag. At Charlotte the week before, two slow pit stops cost Harvick a potential win. He finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson. There were mechanical failures at Las Vegas, Bristol, Fontana and Texas.
The sour luck that seems to follow Harvick and his No. 4 team is confounding to SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli.
"Yeah, I don't know," Zipadelli said. "I try not to think about it too much because it gets frustrating and because I really don't think there's an answer to it."
Harvick did not have a comment, but a posting on his Twitter account said it all:
Even Danica Patrick couldn't escape the misfortune that encompassed SHR Sunday. Running solidly in the top 20, Patrick experienced a blown tire and hit the wall. She finished 37th.
The lone bright spot was Busch. It was a much-needed result for the No. 41 team, which since winning March 30 at Martinsville Speedway had posted subsequent finishes of 39th, 31st, 23rd, 33rd, 29th, 40th and 18th.
"It was just solid execution," Busch said. "A nice turn of the page, so to speak ... this is what we need to start building our consistency on."
Sprint Cup point standings
|3||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||476||2|
|24||Martin Truex Jr.||324||0|
|26||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||290||0|