Kevin Harvick aims to lead Stewart-Haas team back into the fast lane at MIS
Brooklyn, Mich. — Kevin Harvick hopes to have the same type of journey to the NASCAR Cup series championship that Team Penske driver Joey Logano had a year ago.
Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. made up the Big Three all season in 2018 before Logano got hot late in the season and pulled off the upset, winning two of the final four races, including the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Logano didn’t win until the 10th race of the season last year at Talladega, then didn’t win again until he reached Victory Lane 23 races later at Martinsville.
Harvick won eight times last season, matching Busch’s total while Truex had four wins.
Now, Harvick and the Stewart-Haas Racing team is still looking for its first win of the season in Race No. 15, Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway after the organization celebrated wins 14 times last season, including the clean sweep by SHR at MIS, a win by Clint Bowyer in the June race and by Harvick in August.
Harvick said SHR was on the wrong side of the chart coming out to start the season in the new Ford Mustang while Team Penske was fast coming out of the gate with Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski winning three races and Logano, a win at Las Vegas.
Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have won nine races in the Toyota Camry with Busch winning a series-high four times, Truex three and Denny Hamlin twice, including the Daytona 500.
Chevrolet drivers have only one win — Chase Elliott at Talladega — and has just five wins since bringing out the Chevrolet Camaro at the start of the 2018 season.
So, is Harvick frustrated by not reaching Victory Lane even though he has had chances this season?
He has five top-five finishes, all fourth-place spots. Bowyer also has five top-five finishes, including a second at Texas and third at Richmond. Almirola has one top-five, a fourth at Phoenix, and Daniel Suarez, a third at Texas.
The good thing for SHR drivers is the fact if the season ended today all three would be in the playoffs since Harvick sits seventh in points, Boywer, 10th, Almirola, 12th and Suarez, 13th.
And, SHR drivers have displayed speed all weekend at MIS with Almirola qualifying second Saturday afternoon, Harvick, third; Bowyer fifth and Suarez ninth.
Drivers with a win automatically clinch one of the 16 spots for the playoffs to battle for the championship during the final 10 races. The rest of the field is made up by points. Six drivers have clinched spots so far with Busch, Truex, Keselowski, Hamlin, Logano and Elliott winning one or more races.
But, while Team Penske drivers have hit their stride in the new Mustang — Logano has eight top-five finishes, including three seconds — SHR is still looking for their first win.
“I am beyond all the frustration,” Harvick said. “To me it is now a challenge just because I feel like this is very similar to 2014 (championship season) and 2017 (third). I can see the progression in the speed of the cars and the things we have done and, honestly, we just chose the wrong direction to start the year. Our cars weren’t where they needed to be and everyone realized that as a company.
“We had some situations where we were in position to win some races and had some things go wrong, whether it was my team or the 14 (Bowyer). In the end our cars just weren’t fast enough. I think everybody has kept their head down and are looking at it as a challenge now."
The Ford drivers were all invited to have dinner with the Ford Family Thursday evening and Bowyer would like nothing more than to reward Edsel Ford with a win on Sunday.
“Yes, I want to put it in victory lane because it is huge bragging rights for the manufacturer and huge bragging rights as individuals to be the one to do that,” Bowyer said. “When you look at a stable like Ford, it is a shame Mustang wasn’t always on the race track. It wasn’t their doings, there were political reasons it had to happen, but that has changed now. The Mustang is on the race track and what does it mean to have Mustang on the track? For me it is where it belongs and it belongs in victory lane just like we did last year.”
And, on that dinner with the Ford Family?
“There are certain things in life, and I guess it depends on how you grew up but there are certain things that just hit you. Those surreal moments. I was texting my father ... I was like, ‘You are never going to believe this. I am at Henry Ford’s estate with his great-grandson Edsel as host at dinner.’ Did you hear what I just said?'"
Well, it looks like Bowyer will be getting extra motivation to run up front on Sunday to reach Victory Lane.
FireKeepers Casino 400
When: 2 p.m., Sunday
Where: Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn