What started on Feb. 10, 2019 with the Advance Auto Parts Clash non-points race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway will now end with Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
A wise person once said, “It’s over, already?”
Indeed it is ending after 10 months, 36 points-paying Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races – and don’t forget the two exhibition races – with the season finale in South Florida. And Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is once again in the Championship 4 and has a shot at his second title.
It’s Harvick against the world – or Joe Gibbs Racing, at least – as the other three contestants in Sunday’s winner-take-all championship race are Gibbs teammates Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin. Truex has seven wins in 2019, Busch has four and Hamlin six. So, it’s Gibbs 17 victories versus Harvick’s four.
Fortunately, previous victories don’t count and whoever among the four finishes the highest will win the championship. And, let’s be honest, getting there is half the battle because, as said by Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd Christmas in the smash hit Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance …”
Harvick has been in the Championship 4 five times in the last six years, more than any other driver except Busch, who is in his fifth consecutive Championship 4. Harvick won the title in 2014, his first year with SHR, and finished second in 2015 and third in 2017 and 2018. Should he win the title, he would become just the 16th driver to win two or more championships.
Some drivers get nervous or anxious during these championship runs. Harvick lives for them. The more pressure the better because he’s been involved in the top three tiers of NASCAR racing since 1995 and has won 110 races, including 49 it the Cup Series.
Harvick has one win, one pole, 10 top-five finishes, 16 top-10s and has led a total of 373 laps in his 18 career Cup Series starts at Homestead. His average start there is 12.3, his average finish is 6.6, and he has a lap-completion rate of 99.9 percent – 4,811 of 4,812 laps available. His last finish outside the top-10 was a 19th in November 2007, one of his only two finishes outside the top-10.
He won the November 2006 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Homestead, as well as the Xfinity race pole in November 2004. He has five top-10s in eight career Xfinity starts.And in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series,Harvick has raced at Homestead six times and won the November 2009 race among his four top-five finishes in six Truck races there.
So here we go. It’s why drivers race for 10 months out of the year throughout 36 points-paying events – to win championships. And Harvick has that chance.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Are there aspects of your team you are trying to shore up heading into Homestead or are you just rolling with what you have?
“I think it’s been a very interesting year for us. I think as you look at our year, it’s been a challenge in order to get where we are today, just to battle through the beginning of the year and get the ship turned around and in the right direction and really figure out exactly where we needed to be, what we needed to be doing. (They’re) just totally different concepts than the things we’ve done in the past and just those new concepts and mindsets, the way you race, the way you call a race, all those things that come together. I think the strength and experience of our race team has kind of carried the results that are in the finish column and the stages won and stage points and those types of things. As we went through the late summer and in the playoffs, I feel like we obviously have got our cars back to being competitive and, when I say competitive, I mean able to lead laps without circumstances, and so we’ve been able to do that. And as long as we keep doing those types of things this week, I think you’ve got to be in it to win it and just have to see how it falls.”
Did the win at Texas free you up to do that or would you still have done that?
“It would have been the same because that’s just how I guess we’re wired. You have to think about what you’re doing a long ways in advance. It’s from scheduling from a car’s standpoint with less cars next year, the types of racetracks, simulators, all those things have a schedule that’s attached to them. For me and my team, it’s not something you want to try to do six weeks in advance. It’s a process to try to get the most out of everything you do and have some sort of organization and thought around it in order to go to the simulator and try to make it relevant to what you do at the racetrack, and then your simulation and your aero maps and all those things that come with the things you do. The race still has the same meaning and we’re still gonna approach it the exact same way that we would have if we hadn’t have won, just because of the fact that it’s just what we do every week, and I know you guys have heard me say that we don’t prepare any different whether we win or lose. We might do things differently to the car as far as setups and the way they’re built and things like that, but the conversations and preparation are gonna happen on the same days at the same time and you can’t do the type of preparation you would do for a championship race like this next year overnight, so you have to have a plan.”
Is there any internal pressure on you to keep performing at this level?
“I think the competitive side of me would tell you yes, just because I don’t really want to race for 20th, and that challenge of the things we went through this year is definitely somewhat interesting to me because of the fact you have to really get in there with your guys and be a part of the process and routine of things in order to change something. It’s been challenging, but it’s also been a little intriguing to me just because of the fact you want to try to fix things and make them better and I feel like we’ve done a good job at that, but I think for me being competitive is really the thing that keeps me motivated. I love the fact that things change so much that you have to be open-minded to change and I always tell the guys in our trailer that you have to be open-minded in this sport or you’ll get left behind. It’s been fun to win races and be competitive, but it is definitely something that I think about every day. I want to be competitive and, in order to do that, sometimes people pay attention to an age or a stat and I hadn’t looked at a stat or watched a race in I can’t even tell you how long because I’m just worried about what we’re doing and trying to get better and really focused on a week-to-week basis and worry about the rest of it when you get done.”
Does it work in a sense between you and Rodney Childers because you just stay laser focused but don’t worry about other stuff, that you know he’s going to stay on top of everything and all the minutiae and details and all that?
“They expect me to come to the racetrack and be prepared. And the thing about being prepared for me is from a physical standpoint, a mental standpoint, to be as mentally focused as you can. And my age and experience kind of comes into that, I guess you could say sometimes, because you’ve been to some of these racetracks so many times, and I feel like I know the characteristics of the car. But there’s not a day that goes by that he (Rodney) doesn’t send me a text, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this,’ or one of the engineers will send me a text and say, ‘What do you think about this gear ratio or what do you think about whatever.’ One of them is texting me at least once a day, if not multiple times a day, as to what’s going on and what’s happening. Those are those relationships that are constant and steady, and everybody believes in each other because that’s just how it works. It’s never a bad time to text me or it’s never a bad time to call me. It’s never a bad time to ask me to do something. It’s never a bad time. When they need something, I put down what I’m doing and I go and I try to figure out how we’re going to do it and how we’re going to go to the simulator, how we’re going to go to the race shop, if you need me to come to a meeting, just tell me. The priority is these guys and that race team, and the things they need. But I am a thorough believer that the circle of life has to be balanced for you to show up to this racetrack every single week, to be as focused as you need to be to process all of that information and listen to those guys and listen to the things you do and know that I’m just a piece of information that allows them to put the puzzle together. It’s a big puzzle. You throw all the pieces out on the table and those guys put the puzzle together. There’s a deep belief in each other that we can go out and be better than anybody on any given day, and most of the time we can talk ourselves into it even when we probably don’t really have a chance. We can talk ourselves into it and, just by the experience of the things we do and the experience of racing in general and them calling a race, there’s just that belief that we can figure it out.”