Brooklyn, Mich. — Kevin Harvick might well be poised to do something special in NASCAR this season, and his confidence is brimming.
Harvick is so sure of things in the 2018 NASCAR Cup series that on Saturday night, the night before the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, he and his son Keelan discussed how they would celebrate a win.
By Sunday evening, conspiring with his 6-year-old seemed more discerning than cocky.
Harvick won his seventh race of the season by 3.233 seconds, a significant margin on an intermediate track, while averaging 140.474 mph.
He led 108 laps, 73 more than anyone else.
If passing at MIS was not so confoundingly difficult, six years after a repaving left the wide, sweeping track with a stubbornly-narrow racing groove, Harvick could have led many more, and the margin of victory might have been even more considerable.
With 13 races remaining, Harvick seems easily within striking distance of Jimmie Johnson’s 10 wins in 2007.
It is the only time since the century turned and parity became a dominant force in NASCAR that anyone has won that many.
Few NASCAR insiders doubt he can win 10. Some think Harvick is poised to surpass the mark.
“I think, as you look at the year, you’ve got to remember that I spent a lot of years not having the most fun, and not having the most success,” said the 42-year-old Californian. “In the past five years, we’ve been able to win a lot of races and do a lot of things on the race track and win races and championships.
“For me, I’m just enjoying every moment, because you never know when it’s going to go the other way.”
Asked if he has thought of pinching himself, amid a season unfolding like a video game, Harvick said, “Heck, yeah!”
Rochester Hills' Brad Keselowski, who remains star-crossed at his home track, finished second.
But it was not close, and Harvick’s pace remains a difficult challenge for Team Penske, despite it placing all three cars in the top 10 Sunday, with Ryan Blaney fifth and Joey Logano 10th.
Asked about the three-second gap, and whether he will have a shot in the playoffs given Harvick’s considerable speed, Keselowski admitted he did not have a good answer.
“I don’t know if there’s a great answer to that,” said Keselowski, the only NASCAR Cup champion born in Michigan. “I could throw you something out there. But, it would just be a lob, right?”
Despite some acceleration from Team Penske in recent races, and a burning desire to get Keselowski his first win of the season and his first win in the Cup series at MIS, Keselowski said their pace is no match for Harvick.
“We’re not where we need to be to just win on pure speed week-in and week-out,” Keselowski said. “So, we’ve got to find it.”
While he ran away with the Consumers Energy 400, Harvick has only one more win than Kyle Busch, who finished third.
But Harvick might be a cut above even Busch.
“Well, the confidence is high,” Harvick said. “Right now, you just don’t want to screw it up. So, I think the biggest thing it does is it just makes you want to work harder, and cover all the details. Because you are fairly certain that when the car rolls out of the hauler that it’s going to be fast. And, if it’s not, you have the tools and the people to be able to figure it out.”
The drivers say one reason they like racing at MIS is the intense focus the manufacturers place on winning at a track about 70 miles from the automobile manufacturers.
Even Toyota has a significant presence in southeastern Michigan.
And, it raises a point of some significance in the Motor City.
If Harvick drives to the championship, Ford will have won its first manufacturer’s title since Kurt Busch won it with Jack Roush in 2004.
“I got a few goosebumps when you said that,” Harvick said, when asked about ending the 14-year drought.
He is having that kind of season.
Things can turn quickly in NASCAR, and teams have a way of holding some of their best initiatives back until the playoffs.
But the sense pervades that might not matter to Harvick, his Stewart-Haas Racing team, or to Ford Performance.
“I think, right now, we’re just enjoying it and all of the guys understand, because they’ve been on both sides of that fence, as well, with the struggles and things that don’t always go your way,” he said.
Harvick is confident in his team.
“We don’t care about anything else,” he said. “Right now it’s about winning races.”
How have they achieved dominating performances at so many tracks?
“Well, you’ll have to go to Kannapolis and look in the shop,” he said, of Stewart-Haas headquarters in North Carolina.
And so, when the Harvicks, dad and son, accomplished what they anticipated they well might Sunday, it was Keelan’s turn to walk up the banked track and approach the flag stand to fetch the checkered standard. Then, Keelan jumped in the car with it, and held for all to see on the victory lap.
“That was our idea, wasn’t it?” Harvick said, looking down at his son in the media room at MIS.
“We had it all planned out.”