Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole has struggled this year, but the veteran driver has done his best to extract the most out of his No. 4 Ford Mustang each and every week.
Harvick’s seven top-tens is more than his three SHR teammates combined. While they are mired deep in the standings, he’s managed to keep himself inside the top-ten in regular season points.
But that’s nothing new for the 2014 Cup Series champion, who has ended every year since joining SHR with a higher average finish than his teammates.
And despite an overall lack of speed for the entire organization, there have been some bright spots. Harvick appeared to be on his way taking victory at Phoenix earlier this year before a late-race caution upended his efforts. He was also gaining on the leaders at Nashville before a cut tire derailed yet another impressive run. At Darlington, he escaped the carnage and earned his best finish of the year so far, placing second.
Harvick has approached this final season with a different mindset than previous years, trying to balance a competitor’s mentality with just trying to enjoy his last year on the track.
“Yeah, it’s really been no issue,” he said during media availability at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS).
“We’ve had such a laid-out plan for so long, and all that was intended to know that you’re going to do things, but also put yourself in a position to be competitive. We’ve done that pretty much every week except for Chicago and North Wilkesboro. You just have to grind away, and that’s just kind of the nature of the beast. With this particular car, you’re just going to have some weeks that you’re ‘off.’ For the most part, we’ve been competitive.
“We’ve had a couple of chances to win races, and it just hadn’t all come together to be able to get to victory lane. From the competition side, I think everything has gone well, and the rest of it – we planned for and knew it would be more work than what a normal season would be. I think there are some places that you look at and realize everything that you’ve been able to accomplish throughout the years, and you can kind of go back. That’s the cool part about this year: You can let your guard down, go back and say, ‘Yeah, it has been a good racetrack for us.’
Speaking on NHMS specifically, he added: “We’ve been fortunate enough to have some success, and this is one of those places where you can check that box, let your guard down and say, ‘Yeah, this has been a great racetrack for us, and we have had some success.’ That makes it fun, because there’s nothing to hide anymore. You don’t have to hide what you think about really anything, just because of the fact that next year is different. For years, I didn’t want everybody to really know what I thought, what I was thinking or know too much about you, because you can put yourself in a position where people know your weaknesses or strong points. So the less you say, the less they know. That’s not really relevant this year, and it’s been fun to kind of just let your guard down and say what you think.”
Looking to the playoffs
With less than two months left in the regular season, just a few spots remain inside the playoffs. Eleven drivers are locked in, and Harvick is one of the few holding onto spots that remain up for grabs. But as the Cup Series races towards the playoffs, he doesn’t feel that the intensity on track has changed.
“I don’t feel like anything changes anymore,” he explained. “I think there’s probably some desperation, as you saw with some of the circumstances at Atlanta – staying out, hoping for rain … and Chicago, trying to put yourself in position with the pit cycle and things like that. So, there’s definitely some ‘Hail Marys.’ They work every once in a while, so you never know, right? It’s definitely different with this car, because it is so intense every week with the restarts and what you have to do to pass. For us, it doesn’t really change because in 2015, we just decided to race every week like it was a playoff week. If you have to switch gears, you’re in big trouble. It’s a different way to race.”
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang
Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images
Unless we see several surprise winners over the next few races, Harvick is likely safely in the playoffs on points alone. He’s over 100 points clear of the cut-off line. But of course, the veteran driver would love nothing more than one more trip to Victory Lane before walking away.
When asked if he thinks a win is still a possibility, he definitively declared: “I do … You look back at Nashville – the car was so fast. I think we ran the leaders down by like four seconds, and then a tire went flat. We had that same thing at Phoenix and at a couple other places, and it just hasn’t worked out. You just have to keep grinding away, and hopefully you get some things that go your way like last year – keep the cars running well to put yourself in position, and then go from there.”
Harvick has 60 wins in his career, winning twice during the 2022 season. This weekend’s race will be Harvick’s 40th Cup Series start at NHMS, winning at the ‘Magic Mile’ on four different occasions (2006, 2016, 2018, and 2019). He’ll start 13th in Monday’s race.
Race Winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Mustang Busch Beer / National Forest Foundation
Photo by: Gavin Baker / NKP / Motorsport Images