RACING

INSIGHT: The party has just begun for Harvick

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Kevin Harvick will tell you that his #4 Stewart-Haas Racing team is boring. Now, with back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series victories in his pocket, the door has opened for Harvick to capitalize on some of his best racetracks and be even more of a threat in the playoffs.

But that’s where the boring part comes in. Harvick and his team won’t provide soundbites or bluster-filled titles about why they should be considered title favorites.

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“We never look ahead,” Harvick said Sunday night at Richmond Raceway. “They plan ahead; I know they’re a little early if I show up at the simulator and they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re going to work on this particular race in two weeks.’ Then I’m like, oh, okay, we’re working on a project here. I never say anything, but I can say, “

Two wins in the last two races have locked Harvick in the playoffs — a 180 turnaround for a driver who sat below the playoff grid cut-off line not long ago. The winning streak ends what had been a 65-race winless drought since the fall of 2020. The momentum is on Harvick’s side, and he also now has 10 playoff points in his pocket.

But boring or not, there’s no denying that the final 10 weeks of the season feature some of its best venues. And unfortunately for the competition, these tracks make up the first four weeks of the championship fight: Darlington (September 4), Kansas (September 11), Bristol (September 17) and Texas (September 25).

Harvick has a total of 12 wins at those tracks – three wins per play at each race track.

“We went to Texas and raced last time this year,” refuted Harvick. “I think all of those things are out the window and Darlington was good, Kansas was good. We will come back and race better in Texas, but these are really good tracks for us.

Harvick’s team leader Rodney Childers is definitely looking at what’s to come, but more from a team planning perspective.

“You have to look at these tracks a bit in advance,” he said. “Darlington, we were lucky enough to do the tire test there, and we were able to race there, and we honestly had a good car. But it’s also one of the places where we did everything completely at upside than everything that has made us better in the past two months.

Things click at just the right time for Harvick and the No. 4 SHR team. Matthew Thacker/Motorsport Pictures

“Monday I talked about it, then Tuesday all I worked on all day was Darlington, and then at the end of the day I’m like, I gotta stop worrying about Darlington at this stadium and put it one way. We went to the simulator on Wednesday morning, and I never talked about it again. You have to think about those things, and what car you’re going to take and all that.

“You just keep planning and doing the right things and like he said, our system is what’s working right now. It’s not that we did (anything) different. It’s that our system is working and people are communicating in the right way and talking about the right things, and that’s what we need to continue.

The narrative shift is quite an emotional turnaround for a team that was fighting for its life in the playoffs, and the garage is now wondering how far it can go. A month ago, Childers acknowledged that wins would boost motivation heading into the playoffs.

Inside the walls of Stewart-Haas Racing, however, confidence began to change two months ago.

“The communication and the trust and the cars we were building and all of that just got better,” Childers said in Richmond. “It doesn’t take a lot of trust with our group to make a huge difference. This group has been a tight-knit group the whole time and we push each other.

“Every team in that garage goes through so many bad things that no one here ever hears about, whether it’s someone in your family who’s sick or someone who has this or that. It’s so hard to stay positive, even when things are going well. Like the year we won 10 races, a guy on our team got cancer. That kind of stuff…that’s what you talk about in these meetings more than you talk about upgrading your cars. But it’s really about keeping the same system and not being here one week and here the next week, and treating people the same, treating them well and doing the right things.

Harvick doesn’t deny that he derives satisfaction from proving people wrong. After his win at Michigan, he said those who counted his team didn’t know them. After Richmond, when asked to come out swinging when put in a corner, Harvick drew an analogy to publishers having to print an erratum.

“It’s kind of like when they put these little boxes in the newspaper where they have to correct their story, and you can barely read them,” he said. “I feel like a lot of you should put them at the bottom of your story. I get great satisfaction from that.”

Harvick and his team could live with a status quo attitude, but it now seems guaranteed that his race to finish this season will be anything but boring.

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