Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race with breathing room in the point standings to make a calculated risk and go for the win.
Harvick kicked off the Round of 12 of this year’s Cup Series playoffs on “The Monster Mile” at Dover (Del.) International Speedway last weekend with a dominant performance that included two stage wins, 286 laps led, and the points lead after his sixth-place finish.
The No. 4 Jimmy John’s team now has a 68-point lead for the final transfer position to the next round with two races remaining in the Round of 12. The most points a driver can score in a single race is 60, which means Harvick has breathing room to go for stage wins and the race win this weekend.
The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion’s lone Cup Series win at Talladega came in April 2010, when he started fourth and beat runner-up Jamie McMurray by .011 of a second – one of the closest finishes in series history.
While Harvick has just one win at Talladega, it has also proven to be a challenge for the team in recent years. He has scored one top-five finish, five top-10s and led 58 laps in his last nine races there since joining SHR.
The good news for Harvick and the No. 4 team is that their most recent trip to the 2.66-mile superspeedway last April was their most successful as a group. The team scored the Busch Pole Award with a lap of 49.247 seconds at 194.448 mph, led 12 laps and finished fourth.
In addition to his solid performance at Talladega in April, Harvick and the No. 4 team continue to be the class of the field during the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series campaign, leading the series with seven wins, 20 top-five finishes, 25 top-10s, and 1,560 laps led. They also rank second with an 8.6 average finish and are tied for third with three Busch Pole Awards.
A win at Talladega would mean he automatically qualifies for the Round of 8, but additional stage wins and race wins mean extra playoff points as he progresses through the playoffs. In addition to his strong performance at Talladega in April, Harvick also performed well at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City earlier this year, the site of next week’s final race in the Round of 12, when he won from the Busch Pole position and led 79 laps.
For the No. 4 team, the focus this weekend is on starting up front, leading laps, winning stages and winning the race – but the big-picture goal remains advancing to the next round of the Cup Series playoffs and winning a second championship. The quickest way to reach that goal is to win this weekend at Talladega.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What do you need to do at Talladega to beat the Penske cars there?
“I don’t know why they’re good other than we get to experience a lot of the same things with a fast car and the effort that Doug Yates and his team put in from an engine standpoint. Obviously, Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano) have done really well there over the last couple of years and executing with the equipment and the things that they’ve had to put themselves in victory lane. They’ve definitely capitalized on what I would consider the best cars at superspeedways, and those would be the Fords.”
Describe the intensity of restrictor-plate racing?
“Plate racing is something you have to be aggressive at just for the fact that, if you’re not aggressive, it always seems like you are not going to be where you need to be. Nine times out of 10, I believe, the aggressor is going to be the guy who comes out on the good side of things just for the fact that you’re making things happen and you’re not waiting for something else to happen. When you wait for something else to happen, that’s usually when you get in trouble because it’s usually someone else’s mess. You can still get in trouble if you’re aggressive but, it seems like, with this rules package and the way things are, it’s best to stay aggressive and try to stay up front.”