SUNNYD Racing: Kevin Harvick Kansas Advance

Stewart-Haas Racing

●  Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home. And for Harvick, home is an intermediate racetrack. With apologies to those in Harvick’s hometown of Bakersfield, California, the veteran racer has made the intermediate tracks that comprise the majority of the NASCAR Cup Series schedule his home. Of Harvick’s 60 career NASCAR Cup Series wins, 24 have come at intermediate-style racetracks. Kansas Speedway – a sweeping, D-shaped oval that has produced high speeds and daring, side-by-side racing since its debut in 2001 – is where Harvick has earned three of those victories. Harvick has competed at the track for every one of its Cup Series races – the only driver to do so – and has amassed quite the history in his 35 career starts there. In addition to his three wins, Harvick has five second-place finishes, 11 top-threes, 12 top-fives, 19 top-10s and has led 949 laps, making the driver of the No. 4 SUNNYD Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing one of the most successful drivers in Kansas’ relatively young history. His average start there is 13.4, his average finish is 9.9 and he has a lap completion rate of 96.3 percent.

●  Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas serves as the second race of the 10-race playoffs. Harvick is a part of the 16-driver playoff field, and he comes into the race 14th among his playoff counterparts. Harvick finished 19th in the playoff opener last Sunday night at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway where he went from prince to pauper in just a few seconds. Running second and on the back bumper of race-leader Tyler Reddick, Harvick ducked onto pit road on lap 310 for a scheduled, four-tire stop that would have taken him to the finish. But as Harvick was committed to pit road, Ryan Newman spun to bring out the caution. And just before Harvick crossed the stripe to enter pit road, NASCAR closed the pits. Harvick had nowhere to go but to continue down pit road, so he was hit with a penalty. Upon completing his pit stop, Harvick had to restart at the tail-end of the longest line. After being second and poised to take the lead from Reddick, Harvick was now buried in the rundown of the 36-car field when the race returned to green on lap 317. He used the final 50 laps to claw his back to 19th when the checkered flag waved. It put Harvick two points below the top-12 cutline, as only the 12 highest drivers in points after the third playoff race next Saturday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway will advance to the second round of the playoffs. A win at either Kansas or Bristol will punch Harvick’s ticket to the Round of 12.

●  Kansas is one of the 10 tracks that make up the NASCAR Playoffs, and of Harvick’s 60 career NASCAR Cup Series victories, 23 have come at the remaining playoff venues. Three of those wins have been at Kansas, while Harvick also has three wins apiece at Bristol and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. He has two wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and one win each at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The remaining nine wins were earned at the most valuable playoff venue – Phoenix Raceway, home to the championship-deciding race. The only playoff track where Harvick doesn’t have a win is the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.

●  Harvick scored his first NASCAR Cup Series win at Kansas in the 2013 Hollywood Casino 400 with a massive 1.14-second margin over runner-up Kurt Busch. Harvick scored his next Kansas win in the 2016 Hollywood Casino 400 with another impressive performance, crossing the stripe 1.183 seconds ahead of next-best Carl Edwards. Harvick’s most recent Kansas victory came in May 2018, when he beat Martin Truex, Jr., by .39 of a second.

●  Harvick is tied for the second-most wins at Kansas with Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, all of whom have three victories apiece. Denny Hamlin leads with the most victories at Kansas, as his win in the series’ previous race at the 1.5-mile oval in May gave him four triumphs to break what had been a five-way tie. Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 marks the 36th Cup Series race at Kansas.

●  Harvick’s 12 top-fives at Kansas are the most among active drivers, as are his 19 top-10s. Next best in top-fives is Hamlin with 12, and when it comes to top-10s, Truex is next-best with 17.

●  No one has led more laps at Kansas than Harvick. His 949 laps led are 43 more laps than Truex, his nearest pursuer in this category.

●  Harvick is good at Kansas even outside of the NASCAR Cup Series. He has six top-fives across 11 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the track, with the highlight being a victory in September 2006 when he beat Matt Kenseth for the win by .423 of a second. Kenseth retired from NASCAR upon the conclusion of the 2020 season and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Kevin Harvick;

What will make this year’s playoffs a success for you?

“My goal was to be competitive, and we’ve been fortunate to do that, for the most part. There were a couple of weeks where we weren’t very competitive, but it seems that’s kind of the norm with this particular car. You just want to go as far as you can and do everything that you can to maximize each and every week, and that’s what we’re good it.”

Nine races left in your NASCAR Cup Series career. Is it becoming more and more surreal that you’re seeing these tracks for the last time?

“I’ve had that question a lot, and every time I go to a track for the last time, it doesn’t feel that bad. For me, it was really important to be at this point of where I am in my driving career. Coming back this year and running this last season and making it as public as it’s been, to have a plan for logos and racetracks and fans and people to come the last time, and to go back and look at all the old pictures and hear the fans’ stories and racetrack stories, or whatever the scenario is, it’s put really good closure to whatever event it is. We’ve had a lot of success at Kansas, but there’s really not anything that has happened so far where I was like, ‘Oh man, I’m not so sure that I’m happy about it being the last time.’ I’m so far into planning for next year, and everything is already lined up with the television and the management company, and you’ve already moved on to making a new plan and you’re living out the rest of the plan that you’d already laid out at this time last year. The closure to me has just been the fact that it is what it is. That points to us doing a really good job of planning it all out, and I feel like we’re good at just moving on to the next task.”

Do you need to win a championship this year for closure on your NASCAR Cup Series career?

“For me, I don’t really need anything. I feel like we’re at this point of where we are because we’ve been fortunate to be successful and all the things that come with that. We’ve been close to winning races this year and haven’t had it all work out. I can feel that from the fans on a weekly basis. You feel the fans’ want for you to be successful, and I think they’re really understanding that this season is a lot for them to come to the racetrack and let them celebrate and do the things they do, go to the races they want to and celebrate things, whatever they want to celebrate because, when you talk to people, it’s just different for each person. Some you’re helping through a hard time. For some it’s, ‘I became a fan when Dale (Earnhardt) died.’ Some of it’s, ‘I like you because of Keelan.’ Some of it’s, ‘I like you this year because it’s your last year.’ It just depends. So that part to me has been very motivating because they want you to be successful as bad as you want to be successful. I think I definitely appreciate and feel that from the fans. We’ve just got to put it together, it’s just got to come together. If you look back at Phoenix, or Daytona two weeks ago and even Darlington last week, it’s just those two or three little scenarios, or one scenario that just has to work out, because when you look at the rest of it, or look at it from a stat standpoint, the only thing that’s wrong with everything we’ve been able to work through this year is we just haven’t won.”

Your history at intermediate tracks has been really strong, particularly at Kansas. Can you pull anything from past years to where if you have to play defense, you can because you know every nook and cranny of the racetrack?

“There aren’t a lot of things that you can relate to with the car, but there are a lot of things you can relate to with the racetrack. There are a lot of races that I’ve gone back and watched from 2010, 2011, where the cars had different characteristics, and things that happen because the way you drive it and where you would drive it on the racetrack are a little bit different with this car than it was with the older cars. But you keep that playbook as open as possible in order to have some options because you can’t just say it won’t work, you can only drive it in one spot on the racetrack, especially at a place like Kansas, where you have options. So you have to be ready to create some options if you need them.”

In an ideal situation, where do you want to run at Kansas?

“You have to be good middle to the top of the racetrack in order to make good time at Kansas and be able to survive on the long run and make enough speed, so that’s what we’ll concentrate on.”

Middle to the top of the racetrack is where you want to run at Kansas, but when do you adjust that line in the event you’re getting beat?

“I’m going to always want my car to be versatile just because if you’re married to that top lane and your car won’t work anywhere else, you don’t have a really good chance of making time and passing people. If you get married to that top lane and catch 15th, 16th place in the field and they’re also married to that top lane, it becomes difficult to pass and then your gaps shrink rapidly as you’re trying to make your way through the field. You need to have some versatility. If your car’s decent up top, you can make good lap times up there, regardless, and park yourself in front of the guys who are also wanting to run up the top. But if your car’s a little more versatile than others, you can kind of swing down through the middle, especially in turns three and four.”

Your history at Kansas is impressive. Three wins, five second-place finishes, 11 top-threes, 12 top-fives, 19 top-10s and 949 laps led across 35 career NASCAR Cup Series starts. What makes you so good there?

“I think Kansas has been a great racetrack and, really, from a driver’s standpoint, a fun racetrack because of the fact that it’s worn in so well. You can race at the top of the racetrack, which is the preferred groove as the tires wear out. It’s faster at the bottom of the racetrack on new tires. But as a driver, having options is something that is a lot of fun. With Atlanta having been repaved along with some of the other racetracks, Kansas has become one of the more unique racetracks because of the fact the asphalt and the shape of the racetrack are so driver-friendly, as far as where you can drive on the racetrack. You can literally drive from the wall to the apron all the way around the racetrack. So, it’s a fun racetrack. It’s been good to us and, hopefully, we can continue that trend on Sunday.”

Race strategy, particularly at Kansas, has come into play in recent races. While strategy is more in the realm of your crew chief, Rodney Childers, when it dictates a race outcome instead of sheer performance, do you have to sort of switch your mindset, perhaps by finding some patience even when you want to just go as hard as you can?

“These cars, in certain situations, have worn the tires a lot more than what they’ve done in the past. Kansas can be a high-wear racetrack just because of the way that the surface has aged, which is a great thing. So, I think for a lot of that, you’ll just have to see what the pit windows are and what the tire wear is when we go there. But it’s definitely a racey track. Those guys can see a lot more on the pit box than I can see in the car, so I usually just go with what they tell me and kind of roll from there.”


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