KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will attempt to score his 11th consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top-10 finish by winning this Sunday’s Food City 500 in support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Interestingly enough, however, even though Harvick is off to the best start of his 15-year Sprint Cup career in 2015, he hasn’t scored a top-10 finish at Bristol since March 2011, or a top-five since August 2008.
Dating back to last November’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick finished second or better in nine of the last 10 points-paying events and 10th or better in every event. During his current streak of 10 top-10s, he has four wins, five second-place finishes and an eighth-place finish. He’s led a series-high 1,086 laps during that time.
Harvick finished second at Texas last fall before going on to win the final two Sprint Cup races of 2014 at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Harvick and the No. 4 team started 2015 with consecutive second-place finishes in the 57th Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He then went on to win back-to-back events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix, finished second at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, then eighth at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Last week at Texas, Harvick scored another runner-up finish.
Seven races into 2015, Harvick sits atop the driver standings with 306 points. His five straight Sprint Cup finishes of second or better to start the season is a series record. He has led a series-high 766 laps with an average finish of 2.6 through the first seven races of 2015. His 766 laps led are more than twice that of the next-closest competitor – Joey Logano with 324.
Harvick is one of only three drivers to finish in the top-10 in each of the seven Sprint Cup races this season. Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. are the other two. Morgan Shepherd set the record for top-10s to start a season in 1990 when he did it 11 races in a row.
Harvick leads several other statistical categories – 132.8 driver rating, 413 fastest laps run, 35.6 percentage of laps led, 908.64 miles led, 2,123 laps in the top-15, 98.7 percentage of laps in the top-15, average running position at 3.79, average finish of 2.6, and 84.3 percent of quality passes.
Even though it’s been four years since his last top-10 at Bristol, Harvick has found success at Bristol over the years. He won the 2005 Food City 500 in convincing fashion by leading three times for 109 laps, beating Elliott Sadler by 4.652 seconds. A prelude to that win was Harvick’s Xfinity Series victory the day before, giving him a sweep of the Bristol race weekend. He also has nine top-five finishes and 12 top-10s at the half-mile oval.
Harvick has five wins and three poles at Bristol in the Xfinity Series. He’s also scored 15 top-five finishes, 21 top-10s and has led 1,216 laps. He has an average starting position of 9.4 and average finish of 7.5.
Since joining SHR in 2014, Harvick finished 39th after an accident in the Sprint Cup race last March, and he won the pole for the August 2014 race with a speed of 131.362 mph. He led 75 laps before a pit road speeding penalty cost him track position in the latter race before finishing 11th. However, he led a total of 103 laps – 10 percent of the 1,003 laps available in last year’s two races at Bristol.
The best news for Harvick coming into this weekend may be crew chief Rodney Childers, who’s led three different Sprint Cup drivers to top-five finishes at Bristol – Scott Riggs, David Reutimann and Brian Vickers. Childers led Riggs to a fourth-place finish in August 2006 while both worked for Evernham Motorsports. While at Michael Waltrip Racing, he led Reutimann to a runner-up finish in August 2010 and Brian Vickers to a fifth-place finish in March 2012 and fourth-place finishes in August 2012 and 2013.
While Harvick and Childers have been freaky fast virtually everywhere since they were paired together at SHR in 2014, both are hoping to keep the momentum going this weekend at Bristol by scoring their 11th consecutive top-10, eighth of the season and first win together at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
What makes Bristol Motor Speedway unique to you?
“Well, Bristol is a lot different than it used to be. The fast way around the racetrack it up against the wall now, so it becomes a little bit harder to pass. They’re also making some changes to the soft walls on the straightaways, so I think that’s going to make the bottom even harder to run. We’ll see what the weekend brings and try to keep track position as we go through the day to run up against the wall.”
What makes the spring race at Bristol different than the fall race?
“It’s usually a lot cooler, so in the spring you don’t fight a lot of the same things that you fight in the fall. Obviously we have different rules this year, so I think we’re going to have to adjust to that, as well. I think it will be a lot like it is everywhere else in terms of the new rules – you’re just going to have a lot more throttle time through the corner, which at Bristol sounds hard to believe, but you’re going to have more throttle time through the corners.”
Through the first part of 2015, what stands out to you most?
“I think just capitalizing on the days that we’ve had chances to win races. To me, it feels a lot like last year at the beginning with the exact opposite results. Just for the fact that last year we were a new team and had a lot of issues that we had to work through from the mechanical side of it and a lot of parts failures – you could call them back luck situations. I think when you look back at the performance from this year to last year, it’s virtually the same with the speed of the car. It’s just that the team is better. It’s the same group of guys, but everyone just knows each other so much better now. When you look back at the first half of the year last year and you look at the first seven weeks of this year, it’s just run so much differently just because this group of guys knows each other so much better. When you look at the results, it would look a lot different from last year but, really, it’s very much the same only with a team that has been together longer now.”
You already have your third-highest single-season laps led total and we are only seven races into 2015. When you put up numbers like that, where does the significance of that register with you?
“I look at it as we’re doing stuff that I’ve never experienced before. It’s a much different feeling than having to figure out how to win a race, come from behind or whatever the case may be. It’s a much different way that you have to manage expectations, manage the race and manage the weekend. It’s a different approach because you know we have speed in our cars and we have people doing their jobs and performing at a very high level. The guys on the shop floor, the pit crew and the guys on the pit box – everybody is performing at such a high level. You almost respect it more now just for the fact that you went through all of those years of scrounging to do what you do to get the results that you wanted to and we were fortunate to have good results. But it was just a different path, I guess you could say. You just keep your head down and keep working just for the fact that you’ve seen it the other way.”
Have you seen any shift in how people view you this year compared to last, be it race fans or competitors?
“It’s definitely different. Everybody wants to see what you’re doing. When you look at how (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) and everybody on the team has handled it, it’s definitely a different situation than anything I’ve been a part of in past years. After we got about halfway through last year, you could kind of feel a little different perception. The way you see that is everybody wants to look at your cars, complain about your cars, or throw stones at what you might or might not be doing. When you look at how everybody has handled that, it’s really more flattering than anything, especially when they start throwing stones. Everybody is doing their job and putting the pieces together. We just try to get better and do what we can to perform well on the racetrack. When you look at all that stuff and how people handle situations, really look back on the beginning of 2014 as kind of that deal where it could have gone either way as we were having all the problems, but really it just made everyone stronger. It allows us to view situations, whether good situations or bad situations, pressure up or pressure down – there’s really not a week now that the pressure is not up. We have a different level of expectations from our team standpoint, but you also have that level of expectation that comes from the fans and the people who expect you to perform. When you perform at the level we’ve been performing at, it also comes with a different level of expectation when you roll your car through inspection, the amount of work you have to do and the things that come with it. You have to work through that balance of what you can do, what you can’t do, what you don’t have time to do and how you feel. There are a lot of things Rodney, myself and the whole team have had to learn about and work through. I really think that came as we got to the halfway point last year.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine