It’s a good time of year for things to start going right.
With three races remaining before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs commence, Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to one of the season’s most popular events – Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway bullring – fresh off their second victory of the season and second in the last four events.
A year ago this weekend, Harvick also arrived at the high-banked, half-mile concrete Bristol oval having scored the season’s seventh victory the previous Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, like he did this past Sunday. Last year’s Michigan win was his seventh of 2018, but he would get just one more the rest of the way en route to a third-place finish in the playoff finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In stark contrast this season, it took the No. 4 team 20 races to get its first win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon four weekends ago, but that solid performance signaled a much-needed turnaround in its fortunes. It was followed by a sixth-place result from Harvick’s fourth Busch pole position at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and a seventh-place finish on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International before Sunday’s victory at Michigan.
After two wins in four weeks on two vastly different types of racetracks – the flat, mile oval at New Hampshire and the superfast 2-mile Michigan oval – Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers sense the arrival of the kind of momentum it takes to execute another championship run through the 10-race playoffs, which begin Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.
Saturday night’s typically grueling 500-lap race takes Harvick and his team to yet another unique type of track where he has tasted victory twice before. In August of 2016, in his third season with SHR, Harvick started 24th at Bristol but led 128 laps en route to victory. He also won at Bristol while driving for Richard Childress Racing in April 2005.
All told, Harvick has one pole, 12 top-five finishes, 19 top-10s and has led a total of 884 laps in his 37 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Bristol. His average start there is 16.9, his average finish is 13.2 and he has a lap-completion rate of 98 percent – 18,157 of the 18,527 laps available.
In this year’s Bristol spring race, Harvick had to start from the back of the field and fell as much as four laps off the pace during the middle stage after contact outer SAFER Barrier. But he rallied his way back to the lead lap and passed four cars in the closing laps for what turned out to be a hard-earned 13th-place finish.
Come Saturday night, Harvick hopes and the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang team for SHR hope to keep the momentum rolling along from that strong closing effort in the Tennessee hills last April and their recent pair of victories.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You’re coming off your second win of the season over a four-race span. Do you feel the team is peaking at the right time?
“Yeah, you know, we really got off on the wrong foot as far as where we needed to be on the cars, and it’s been kind of an uphill battle, really all year, to get where we needed to be. The cars have been running a lot better as we’ve gotten into the last two months, and I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury for the last two months to try to make sure I made it through Watkins Glen, and that was no problem. I hurt myself throwing a baseball to (son Keelan), so it’s cut into my golf game (laughs). So, we’ve had a lot of things that we’ve had to overcome to get to this point. But it’s kind of like last year – we started off on fire, we won eight races and then didn’t win the championship. In the end, you want to win that championship, and hopefully we’re peaking at the right time.”
Your two wins came on vastly different racetracks – the flat, mile oval at New Hampshire and the 2-mile Michigan oval. What’s your contribution as a driver to make everything on the racecars work well on multiple types of tracks?
“Well, you remember those days when you made the most power and you had the best fuel mileage, right? It’s nice. Doug (Yates) and everybody at Roush Yates Engines does a great job, and obviously Ford puts a big circle around the two Michigan races to try and be the top manufacturer. And when you look at our engine program, I think these particular racetracks really fit the style of our torque curves and the things that we do, and it was right in our wheelhouse. The evolution of these race cars is rapid, and when you talk about the engine shop, obviously Mobil 1 is a huge part of that in being able to develop new oils, and it’s been no different with the new oil and things in the car. We’ve had some good days and a lot of pieces are coming together, and hopefully when we get to Las Vegas (to start the playoffs), there will be a few more come together, as well.”
Is it hard to communicate inside the racecar at Bristol because everything happens so fast?
“It’s definitely loud and hard for the teams to hear. One of the hardest things at Bristol is just to see what’s going on. I have crashed at Bristol and gone back to watch it on TV and you’re like, ‘What in the hell were you doing? You just ran into four or five cars that have been sitting there for two seconds.’ But, Bristol is a very demanding racetrack. It’s very hard because things happen so fast, communication is hard. It’s easy to make a mistake or pile into a wreck. It’s easy to wreck somebody or to get into a fight. It’s easy to do a lot of things because there is just so much happening. It’s a tough place to race, to put it all together, and it’s mentally and physically exhausting.”