Harvick Emerges As Fourth Contender For Cup Title After Kansas Victory
Just when it appeared NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship” was down to a three-driver battle involving Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, a new contender has jumped into contention – 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick.
After winning from the pole in the Hollywood Casino 400 last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Harvick made a one-position advancement and is third in the standings, just 25 points behind leader Kenseth. Johnson is second in points, only three out of the lead.
It was Harvick’s third win of the season as he speeds Saturday night into Charlotte Motor Speedway for the only Chase race under the lights – the Bank of America 500.
And Harvick hopes some “good karma” is on his side heading to one of NASCAR’s most iconic tracks – Charlotte – after scoring his first win at one of its newest at Kansas.
“I talk about the karma police a lot,” Harvick said after winning at Kansas. “We don't want bad karma to overwhelm us at any point.
“It was an interesting weekend, to say the least. Obviously everybody was battling the tires and the track, and I think it was like driving on a razor blade. I told them yesterday, we've just got to try to get some kind of consistency because that was the thing that for me stuck out the most was our lap times; one would be good, one would be bad, one would be good, and that's always our strong point where you have that nice curve of lap times.
“To sit on the pole and win the race is obviously a great weekend, and controlling our own destiny by doing that, putting ourselves closer to where we need to be with the championship race. We'll just keep having fun and keep doing what we're doing.”
And for a race driver, the most fun is Saturday night under the lights. It creates an electric atmosphere for the teams and spectators.
When it comes to electrifying drivers, Harvick is certainly in that category.
He returns to the CMS where he scored one of his greatest victories this season in the Coca-Cola 600.
“For me, what is more positive for us than any other race we've been to all year, just for the fact that we were at a mile-and-a-half racetrack that had a lot of circumstances,” Harvick said. “And being comfortable, more comfortable than everybody else I guess you could say, driving the car and having the speed that it had I think shows the gains that we've been able to make since that race.
“The bottom line is you can have fast cars, but it's going to come down just like it did at the ‘600.’ You're going to have to have the right strategy to go along with everything as the day unfolds.”
Harvick is in his final season with Richard Childress Racing – a team where the legendary Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven NASCAR Cup championships. Team owner Richard Childress has once again built a solid operation, and Harvick’s crew chief, Gil Martin, continues to provide the driver with fast race cars, especially on the 1.5-mile ovals that dominate the 10 races in The Chase.
“It is extremely hard to win on these mile-and-a-half tracks because you've got to be looking at gas mileage, you've got to be looking at where you're going to be at the end of the race,” Martin said. “At Kansas, with about 100 laps to go, I told him we were thinking about this like a road course because you had to just start backing it up knowing when could you make it. Luckily a couple of times there where we had 10-lap tires on we were up in the front. Most of the time you would feel like you were a sitting duck. But I knew today from practice all you've got to do is go out on stickers, come back into the garage, let them sit a minute and then they had a lot of speed and the same characteristic was there today. We found ourselves in that situation a couple of times.
“When we go to Charlotte, when we go to Texas there's going to be a completely different set of circumstances, so the things you did here today are not going to be there, so you've got to be open and ready for whatever kind of change happens.”
So far this season, the only drivers that have won on the 1.5-mile tracks are two of the three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers (Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch) and Harvick.
“There's too many good cars out there,” Martin said. “You're not going to stop the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) from winning at these places, and it's not going to say that they're behind and we're all so far ahead. It's just circumstances happen. The thing of it is I think in the past where maybe some of the different guys dominated, everybody else just hasn't caught up to them. Well, now you've got a lot of cars that are running equally as fast.
“So it's coming down now to just strategies and how things work out, and that's making a huge difference in just how you set up for the race. The biggest thing is whenever you go into one of these things whatever game plan you have you've got to be ready to change it because it's probably not going to be the right one.”
When he had Earnhardt behind the wheel of his Chevrolets, Childress built a powerhouse team that dominated in the 1980s and 1990s. With Harvick in his final season on the team before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing, Childress has a true championship contender that could be a factor over the final six races in the Chase.
“We've just got to keep doing what we did today to be a contender,” Childress said. “I don't think top-10s will win a championship when you're racing Jimmie Johnson and the group of guys that's up there. We've been there before, and hopefully this time we can pull it off.
“We're committed to try to win the championship. We owe it to our sponsors and our fans to give them 100 percent, and that's what we agreed to do, and that's what we're going to do until Homestead. No matter what happens between now and then, that's our goal is to go after the championship. What a great way to go out.”
Harvick is the man who gets the accolades as the driver. But he can’t get there without the help of all those back at the shop and on the crew.
“Those guys are going to work on the cars whether they're running first or last, and that's really – whether I agree with him or he agrees with me, it doesn't really matter,” Harvick said. “Those guys that are down there in the shop and digging on the cars, those are the ones that you look at and you say, you know, you owe it to them to go out and do what you have to do.
“It's business, but it's also you have a sense of pride, and your ego just has a hard time taking the fact that you did it like everybody else. I think that's what we talked about. You don't want to do it like everybody else. You want to go out with a sense of success and everything has gone well.”
Some may have overlooked Harvick in terms of this year’s championship, but his team never gave up on the quest. And that belief has him back in the battle in one of the top three.
“There's no way you can ever consider yourself out of it,” Martin said. “The first race of the year at Daytona, I think we came out of there 43rd, and in 10 weeks we were back up to around 10th or 11th, so we made up a lot of ground, not only just by running well. Other guys had problems, too, and with six races to go, I mean, there's so many things that can happen. You've still got Talladega and Martinsville that everybody considers to be tracks that shake everything up, but today we were at what everybody considers to be a non-eventful mile and a half, and you saw what happened today. So there are a lot of things that can happen in the next few races, and we're just going to have to capitalize on them.
“But by no means do I think we're out of it.”
And Harvick is proving that point.