Ace in the Hole
KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Oct. 21, 2015) – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with an “ace in the hole” as the reigning Sprint Cup champion looks to advance from the Contender Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup into the Eliminator Round.
Harvick’s 2015 campaign has made him the favorite to retain his title with only five races remaining in the Sprint Cup playoffs. He heads to Talladega tied with Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon for fifth in the Contender Round of the Chase, seven points above the cutoff line to advance to the Eliminator Round of eight drivers. While the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet will do everything he can to race to victory at Talladega to secure his place in the Eliminator Round, he’s also fortunate to hold the tiebreaker over the other two drivers thanks to his runner-up finish two weekends ago at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
After placing second at Charlotte, Harvick became the 13th driver since 1972 to collect 20 top-five finishes in a season. The others include Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson.
The runner-up finish at Charlotte also was Harvick’s 11th of the season, the most since Allison logged 12 runner-up finishes in 1972. Add three race wins for the No. 4 Chevrolet driver and Harvick now has 14 top-two finishes this season, double the total of the next-best drivers in that category – Kyle Busch and Johnson, who each have seven.
Thirty-one races into this season, Harvick has been a model of consistency as he has 20 top-five finishes, and he’s also led a series-high 2,052 laps with an average finish of 9.1.
Harvick is the first driver to lead 2,000 laps in consecutive seasons since Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1996. The last three drivers to lead more than 2,000 laps in a single season have all gone on to win the Sprint Cup championship –Gordon led 2,320 laps in 2001, Johnson led 2,238 laps in 2009 and Harvick led 2,137 in 2014.
The reigning Sprint Cup champion leads several other statistical categories: 118.9 driver rating, 43 bonus points, 1,237 fastest laps run, 32.2 percent of fastest laps run, 23.0 percent of laps led, 2,492.48 miles led, 8,072 laps in the top-15 and average running position of 7.449.
Harvick and the No. 4 team have reason for optimism as the series returns to Talladega for the final race of the three-race Contender Round of the Chase. Harvick has scored 430 points in the last 10 races at the 2.66-mile oval – second only to Clint Bowyer’s 498. He also has one win, six top-five finishes and 13 top-10s with an average finish of 15.3 and 174 laps led in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Talladega.
The reigning champions are hoping to advance to the Eliminator Round with a win at Talladega, but if it takes a tiebreaker to advance, it’s nice to know they hold the highest finish among the Chasers without a win in the Contender Round.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Is Talladega the most anticipated race in the Chase?
“Yes, Talladega is, for sure. There are so many things out of your control and you want to control as many things as possible on a week-to-week basis. Sure, there have been a lot of circumstances that have taken wins out of our hands throughout the regular season. But I think, as you look at the things that can be taken out of your hands, and circumstances, you expect those things. But there are so many more things that can happen at Talladega with the odds of getting into an accident way higher. They are usually big accidents and take out multiple cars. Talladega is the one you don’t want to have to deal with.”
You go to Talladega not locked into a spot in the next round of the Chase. What’s running through your mind?
“Yeah, I mean, there’s just a lot out of your control, so you go in there – and for me, I’ve just made the decision over the last several years that you go there and you try to position yourself at the front of the pack and you just let it happen. Otherwise, it’s just a complete mental drain on yourself and the team. That’s the strategy. That’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to play the odds and we’re going to go there and, if you’re at the front of the pack, are you going to have less of a chance of wrecking? I don’t know. Somebody who’s way smarter than me is going to have to go back and look at all those races and see where the crashes happened. But I think, for us, it’s just picking a mindset and just pushing forward with it, and that’s it.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine