KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), has an opportunity to become the first driver to officially clinch a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup this weekend in the Kentucky 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
Harvick, who has Sprint Cup wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway this season, leads the 31st-place driver in the Sprint Cup standings by 389 points heading to Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Kentucky. If he leaves Kentucky with a 385 point advantage over the 31st-place driver, which would guarantee him a place in the top-30 after race No. 26 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway in September, he will officially clinch his spot in the Chase as long as he attempts to qualify for the next eight Sprint Cup events.
Seventeen races into 2015, Harvick has a series-best 12 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s and sits atop the driver standings with 656 points. The No. 4 Chevrolet SS has led a series-high 1,225 laps with an average finish of 6.9. The 1,225 laps led are 517 more than the next-closest competitor – 708 by his SHR teammate Kurt Busch.
Harvick has led at least one lap in 14 of 17 Sprint Cup races in 2015, including a streak of 14 in a row from March 1 at Atlanta Motor Speedway through June 14 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. However, he has not led a lap in the past two Sprint Cup races at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, marking the first time he has not led a lap in consecutive races since August 2014 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and Michigan.
The last Sprint Cup driver to lead more than 1,225 laps through the first 17 Sprint Cup races of a season was Jeff Gordon, who led 1,276 laps though 17 races en route to winning his fourth Sprint Cup championship in 2001.
The staggering number of laps led and the 14 consecutive races with laps led are impressive, and the same can be said for numerous other statistics Harvick has compiled this season.
The Bakersfield, California native leads several other statistical categories: 123.4 driver rating, 26 bonus points, 767 fastest laps run, 20.0 percent of fastest laps run, 25.1 percent of laps led, 1,443.88 miles led, 4,467 laps in the top-15, 91.3 percent of laps in the top-15, and average running position of 6.3 in addition to his average finish of 6.9.
Harvick will attempt to clinch his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup this Saturday night at Kentucky, but also hopes to add a Sprint Cup win to collect another three bonus points for the start of the Chase.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS:
What makes Kentucky Speedway unique compared to other 1.5-mile tracks?
“It’s the ‘newest, oldest’ track we go to. Kentucky Speedway is very rough. The corners are longer so they’re not as sharp, but the roughness of the racing surface is really what makes it unique, in my mind. There is still a lot of grip, but the track has become rough over the years.”
What is it about turn three at Kentucky that makes it so difficult for drivers?
“Turn three is just really flat getting into the corner. You have more banking as you exit the corner, so you kind of drive into the banking and it progressively gets to be a little bit more as you come off of the corner. It’s really flat right there, and you are carrying a lot of speed. You just wind up being loose into the corner for the most part. As you go through the weekend, that will be the toughest spot to navigate, for sure.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine