Kevin Harvick raced his way to a podium finish at Chicagoland Speedway.
More importantly, Harvick didn’t make mistakes on Sunday.
While the former NASCAR champion didn’t have the speed that winner Martin Truex Jr. had in the third and final stage, Harvick was able to maintain third-place over the final 39 laps for his ninth top five finish of 2017 and ninth top five in 17 starts at Chicagoland Speedway.
“Our focus was to make sure that we didn’t make any mistakes today,” said Harvick, who had the top-finishing Ford. “Everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing worked hard to work on that gap between those cars, but we’ve known about that gap and feel like we’ve closed that up. We knew that not making mistakes was gonna go a long way.
“We saw the 78 (Truex) made mistakes today, but they had a fast enough car to recover from that. The 18 (Kyle Busch, 15th) didn’t recover from his mistakes.”
But Harvick’s performance was nearly flawless. He raced to second in the first two stages, picked up the lead from Kyle Busch on the Lap 88 restart and led 35 laps before pitting. Although Chase Elliott, who finished second, beat the No. 4 Ford out of the pits, Harvick led another lap and an additional 2 after grabbing the lead from Elliott again on the Lap 168 restart in the third stage.
“We just had to execute and take what they’ll give you and not finish any worse than that,” Harvick said. “I think we did that today. I felt like the 24 (Elliott) and the 78 were a little better than us and we finished right where we should have.”
Staying out of trouble
Harvick hasn’t kicked off the playoffs the way he had hoped in his last two starts at Chicagoland Speedway. Despite winning the pole in 2015 and leading 10 laps, he crashed in Turn 3 after 138 laps and finished 42nd. Last year, he efforts were crushed in the pits. On Sunday, Harvick remained in contention all day.
“Everyone did a great job today,” Harvick said. “That is what we have to do to compete for the championship. I know we can do that as a team because we have done that before and executed whether our backs have been against the wall or we have been off, we have always figured a way out.
“That is the plan. We will keep doing that. Today we made it happen.”
Harvick left Chicago third in the standings, 35 points behind Truex.
Although Harvick hasn’t set the world afire in 2017 and scored just one win (Sonoma) in the regular season, his top-five finish at Chicagoland marked his third top-five and six top-10 finish at seven intermediate tracks this season. With four more 1.5-mile tracks sprinkled through the final nine races, the future looks bright for Harvick.
“Well, there are a lot more people that will go through round to round on points than by winning,” Harvick said. “You have to think about points and stage points throughout the whole race. We almost maximized everything throughout the weekend. They did a great job.”
Watch Harvick talk about his top-five finish: