KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Kevin Harvick knows the name of the game this time of year is to survive and advance to the next and final round of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. The three races on the Sprint Cup Series schedule that make up the Eliminator Round, starting with Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, are aligned in a way that might have Harvick “bloomin’” at the right time.
Harvick, the driver of the No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), raced his way from the Challenger Round through to the Contender Round with top-five finishes at both Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon and a 13th-place finish at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
Harvick made advancing from the Contender Round a little less stressful by scoring a win at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway to automatically punch his ticket to the Eliminator Round.
The next three races that make up the Eliminator Round – Martinsville, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and Phoenix International Raceway – line up well for Harvick and the No. 4 team. According to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, Harvick ranks third with 72 starts, six wins, 35 top-10s, an average running position of 13.312, average finishing position of 13.8, 67.1 percent of laps in the top-15 and driver rating of 93.5 at the next three tracks. Harvick ranks fourth with an average finish of 13.8 at those venues .
Harvick also has wins at two of the next three racetracks, including an April 2011 win at Martinsville, where he led six laps and battled Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the closing laps to score the win by .727 seconds. Harvick has yet to score a Sprint Cup victory at Texas, but he has scored five Sprint Cup wins at Phoenix, including three of his last four starts at the mile oval.
In only his sixth start with SHR and the No. 4 team, Harvick started 18th, led one lap and finished seventh at Martinsville in April. The result was only Harvick’s second top-10 of the season following his dominating performance in which he led 224 laps en route to the win at Phoenix. Since that time, Harvick and the No. 4 team have gone on to score wins at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Charlotte, added eight poles, 10 top-five finishes and 15-top 10s to their totals.
Outback Steakhouse has celebrated Harvick’s 17 top-10 finishes thus far in 2014 by giving its customers a free Bloomin’ Onion® on the Monday immediately following the race. And while he’d like to continue those celebrations this weekend by scoring another top-10, he’d prefer to do it in a bigger way – by winning his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the 2014 season and automatically advancing to the Championship round at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
Give me your thoughts on the next three races that make up the Eliminator Round of the Chase?
“These next three races line up really well for us. We’ve been fortunate to have won at Martinsville before and we ran really well there the first race. The 1.5-mile tracks have been our bread and butter and Phoenix has been really good pretty much every single time we’ve been there. First, it was just trying to get to Martinsville and we’ve accomplished that. Now we have to focus on getting the best finish that we can out of each racetrack. I guess if I’d have to pick one that we’ve been most successful at it would be Phoenix hands down. But, our 1.5-mile stuff has been our bread and butter this year as we’ve gone through the season, so that should be good. And, Martinsville has been good to us in the past.”
Which of the next three races do you view as the biggest wild card race?
“Well, I think we’ve all proven as we’ve watched all the races or been a part of the races, that we can pretty much make all the races into being a wild card race. I don’t think anybody predicted Kansas being as crazy as it was. Chicago, with all the penalties and everything that happened was pretty crazy, as well. Charlotte got out of control with everything that happened after the race. So I think we could turn any event into a wildcard, but I think that Martinsville is probably the place that a lot of things could even up in terms of the rivalries that have been created with guys in the Chase and out of the Chase – whatever it is on each other. I think we are on a pretty good path to having a clean slate as far as things have gone this season, so hopefully we can make it through Martinsville because I think that’s the one that’ll be the craziest.”
Going from Talladega to Martinsville – what do you expect to see?
“Well, I think everybody is unhappy at this particular stage of the year because the intensity level is so high. You know that whether that moment was good or bad that it could have been the moment that you could win or lose the championship from. You see that intensity and obviously that showed through pretty heavy at Charlotte with a lot of guys. I think right now you just have to approach it as, whatever you have to do to get the best finish for your team, that's what you have to do at this particular point. The goal is to get to Homestead and we have three races to do that.”
Talk about your sponsor this weekend – Outback Steakhouse – and the unique activation they do around the program, including the Bloomin’ Monday promotion.
“Outback is very involved in what they do. The Bloomin’ Monday promotion is really fun and it’s something that the fans are really into. It’s something that draws a lot of attention to Monday mornings, afternoons or evenings, whatever time zone you’re in, for everyone to head to Outback Steakhouse. People love free stuff.”
- Tom Jensen
NASCAR Editor at FOXSports.com & RACER Magazine