KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, enters Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for the first time as the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
As he heads to Daytona, Harvick will begin the defense of his title in earnest at the 2.5-mile superspeedway while also hoping to accomplish a feat not duplicated since 2007, which also happens to be the same year Harvick scored his first and only victory in the Daytona 500. Harvick wants to win three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points-paying races in a row.
Last season, the Bakersfield, California native won the final two Sprint Cup races – at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway – en route to capturing his first Sprint Cup championship in his inaugural season with Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR).
As Harvick enters his 15th Sprint Cup season and his second at SHR with crew chief Rodney Childers at the helm, he is looking to extend that winning streak from two races to three races by winning his second Daytona 500.
Harvick’s attempt to extend that winning streak comes at a racetrack where he’s seen considerable success.
He won the famed Harley J. Earl trophy in 2007 when he beat Mark Martin to the Daytona 500 finish line by 0.020 of a second on the final green-white-checkered restart. It was the closest Daytona 500 finish since the start of computer scoring in 2003.
Harvick also has three wins in the Sprint Unlimited – 2009, 2010 and 2013 – tying him for second-most with owner and teammate Tony Stewart and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.
In the 2009 Unlimited, Harvick survived an incident-filled race that saw a record eight caution periods and less than half the starting field make it to the checkered flag.
The following year, he joined Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader and Stewart as the fourth driver in event history to win consecutive races, driving a backup car he never got to practice to pass Greg Biffle with two laps remaining in a green-white-checkered finish. He was declared the winner when a multicar incident ended the race under caution.
Then, in 2013, Harvick led 40 of 75 laps, dominating the second and third segments en route to his third Unlimited victory in five years.
If Harvick can make it three straight wins by winning the season-opening Daytona 500 Feb. 22 at “The World Center of Racing,” the No. 4 team would put itself in prime position to secure its 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup berth and defend its series title.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
After a perfect ending to last season, would you classify the entire campaign as perfect? What areas do you need to improve on?
“Well, you always have to improve. The day that you think you’re good enough is the day you’re not going to stay as competitive as you want to be. We have to go through every piece of our team and our cars, myself and Rodney. You have to figure out how to get better. Everybody else right now is trying to get what we have, and that’s that championship trophy. As we go through the off‑season, I think we’ve made a lot of small adjustments on a lot of things as a company, as people. That’s what we have to do to continue forward. For me, it’s always just how can I be a better part of the team, how can I take the information and pieces that he has. For me, this offseason was important. We transitioned to the Charlotte area with our home. For me, the main focus this offseason was to get everything in order at home so you could be done with it, have it in place, and be able to go to Daytona and focus on what my team needs from me. You have to be in a position to be able to give that time up in order to fix a problem or to help with a situation. So that’s really been my focus this offseason, to make sure that physically I was where I needed to be to start the season, and from a personal standpoint make sure everything at home was as organized as possible to start the season.”
After winning the final two races of last season, how much added pressure is there? Is there less pressure now?
“There’s way less pressure. Coming into this situation last year I was pretty nervous. It may not have shown through, but there are so many questions in your head about a very comfortable situation. I didn’t want to be comfortable. I wanted to experience what we experienced last year. Sometimes you have to make some bold or hard decisions in order to make things like this happen. I’m as comfortable as I’ve ever been. I feel like we’re better prepared than we were going into the season just for the fact that we have racecars, haulers and people. Everybody has been together except for one guy. They changed some things up in the shop, putting the No. 4 and No. 14 teams together to get everybody up to speed as much as we can at SHR. I feel as comfortable as I can just for the fact that you don’t have the expectations you haven’t lived up to. You lived up to them. You know how to do that. You’re going to continue to take that to the next level to prepare yourself from a mental standpoint, from a physical standpoint, from a team standpoint, and just get better. Sometimes it’s not going to be good enough. You have to have it all go your way. If you’re winning, putting all the effort in you need, you’re going to be in good shape.”
To win one title is hard enough; to win two is even more difficult. Have you thought about what it would mean?
“Yeah, I don’t really search for a lot of advice within our sport, other than the guys and gals on our team. Ricky Carmichael has kind of been the guy I’ve talked to about a lot of things I’ve had happen over the last four or five years, moving teams, what he thinks. He’s not really in the circle, but just giving opinions as my friend. He’s been very successful at what he does. We’ve talked about how you get motivated to race for another title after you’ve won a title. That’s really what I talked about today. That’s just the fear of failure after you’ve succeeded. But everything he tells me is the second one usually comes easier because of the fact you know what to expect, you know the time and commitment and mental focus and the preparation it takes to get to that point. So it’s hard to get it all to line up. Even if you feel like you’re at the top of your game, winning races, being successful, it’s still going to be hard for it all to line up to make it work. I don’t think it’s out of the question, but it will be hard to do.”
How do you refocus after winning a championship?
“You don’t want to fail after you’ve succeeded. For me, you know, probably look back on it and say maybe you didn’t take the time to enjoy it enough. For me, I don’t want to send the perception to anybody that we’re not as focused as we were last year. So you almost work harder to hide the feelings and the things that you’ve accomplished from 2014 because you really want to focus on 2015 to be able to accomplish those goals again. It’s been almost a little bit over the top, I guess you could say, in trying to send that message to my guys and the team. Make sure that what happened last year, whether it’s good or bad, you have to be over it. That’s really the approach we take from a week‑to‑week standpoint. Win or lose, Monday morning you have to focus on the next week.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine