KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will make his 31st NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in Sunday’s Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400. Harvick has won on short tracks, intermediate tracks, road courses and superspeedways, but it’s Pocono’s unique three-turn circuit that continues to leave him puzzled.
For Harvick, it’s something akin to picking up the triangle solitaire puzzle game, where the goal is to jump golf tees over each other until just one remains. Each attempt starts with optimism but ends in frustration when more than one peg remains. Pocono is the racetrack equivalent to the triangle solitaire puzzle game for Harvick.
The “Tricky Triangle” is one of only four Sprint Cup racetracks where Harvick has yet to record a Sprint Cup win. Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the other three.
The Bakersfield, California native has run well at Pocono, scoring seven top-five finishes and 11 top-10s in his 30 career Sprint Cup starts, but has yet to reach victory lane in NASCAR’s top series. He seems to be getting close, however, as he’s scored runner-up finishes in two of his last three Sprint Cup starts at Pocono.
In August 2014, Harvick started sixth, led five laps and finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. by .228 of a second. Last June, he started fifth, led 39 laps and was runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. by 1.346 seconds.
Harvick does have a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Pocono, scoring the win from the pole position while driving for his own team on Aug. 7, 2011. He led 44 of 53 laps to beat Kyle Busch to the finish line by 1.140 seconds.
The Sprint Cup points leader would like nothing more than to score his first Sprint Cup win Sunday at Pocono. A win would be Harvick’s second of the 2016 season. He scored his first of the year in the season’s fourth race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Thirteen races into 2016, Harvick sits atop the Sprint Cup Series standings and holds a 36 point lead over SHR teammate and second-place driver Kurt Busch. This marks the first time in SHR history where its drivers have occupied both of the top two points positions.
Harvick also ranks second in laps led with 688 and has led at least one lap in 10 of 13 Sprint Cup races in 2016, including a streak of nine in a row from Atlanta Motor Speedway in February through Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in May.
While Harvick and the No. 4 team are virtually locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff field by virtue of their win at Phoenix, gaining bonus points for additional wins is now their top priority through the second half of the Sprint Cup regular season.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS:
What’s it like taking a lap around Pocono?
“I think when you look at Pocono, you know that you’re going to have a challenge of getting your car to handle in all three corners. That’s the biggest challenge when it comes to Pocono. You have to make sure you can get all you can coming to turn three because that straightaway is really, really long. You can kind of give up the tunnel turn, but you still need to be very good in all three corners and it’s just a different style of racetrack than what we go to on a week-to-week basis.”
Explain what makes the tunnel turn at Pocono so difficult?
“The tunnel turn is difficult just because you try to carry so much speed through there. It’s not an extremely hard corner, but it’s an extremely hard corner to carry speed through there without having the front end push or the back slide out, or whatever the case may be. It’s not an extremely hard corner until you try to go through there as fast as you can lap after lap. It’s an easy corner to make a mistake and you can give up a lot of time there, but you can also make a lot of time.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine