Despite a disappointing start to the Chase, Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team refuse to change their approach to the playoffs.
When the Chase for the Sprint Cup kicked off at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago, no one doubted Kevin Harvick would be in the thick of the title hunt entering the Contender Round.
Throughout this season, the defending Sprint Cup champion had picked up where he left off in 2014 — at the top. He led the points after 23 of the 25 races leading into Richmond but after the standings were reset, dropped to fifth, based on the number of regular-season victories.
Shockingly, after the first two races of the Chase, Harvick has plummeted to 15th in the standings. Without a win — or major trouble for the contenders immediately ahead of the reigning champion — one of the top teams in the sport could be facing elimination on Sunday at Dover International Speedway.
Still, if there’s a driver and crew that can battle back from adversity, it would be the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team. And with the success Harvick has enjoyed since joining SHR, he doesn’t anticipate a change of strategy entering this weekend.
“It’s really no different than how we would approach any other week,” Harvick said. “I think if you look at the scenario, obviously we’ve been in this position before. But in the end, it really doesn’t change the approach at all.
“As you go into the weekend, you go into Monday, you finish up last week, you have your competition meeting you talk about last week and then you go about normal life throughout the week.
“So, it’s really no different other than the circumstances with the points and the championship and everything that goes with it. But as far as an approach standpoint, we'll do everything exactly the same.”
If it’s not broke…
Certainly, the performance of the No. 4 Budweiser has been consistent in the playoffs.
Harvick posted the fastest time in practice at Chicagoland and earned the top starting position. He led the first five laps, moved back to the point again to lead five more circuits until a cut tire — from earlier contact with Jimmie Johnson — gave way and ricocheted the No. 4 Chevy into the wall. Harvick finished 42nd.
He and the Rodney Childers-led Stewart-Haas Racing team entered New Hampshire looking to recover — and did, albeit temporarily — leading 216 of 300 laps until running out of fuel with three laps remaining in the race.
“I actually haven't spoken specifically to Rodney about what happened,” Harvick said. “I try to stay out of those types of scenarios, just because of the fact that I can just add more layers to the process of trying to figure that out.
“From a mileage standpoint, it was definitely something that shouldn't have been an issue to make it to the number as far as gas in the tank, as far as how much gas it pulled out, or if the car was actually full or not. I don't know the answer to that a hundred percent.”
Harvick doesn’t believe the team took unnecessary risks by staying out on the track at Chicagoland with a tire that had stopped smoking or pushing the limits with fuel mileage in a situation where the No. 4 Chevy was calculated to go the distance.
Nor does he question the decision-making skills of Childers, who guided Harvick to the best season in his racing career. His confidence in Childers is unwavering.
We have definitely had to react to some situations throughout the last couple years and I think it's made us stronger.
“This all goes back to a lot of the conversations that Rodney and I had together before he ever even stepped foot into the Stewart‑Haas Racing shop,” Harvick told Motorsport.com. “We made a deal and that was, I gave all the information and was a part of the team and process and when it came to times that were tough, whether it be with the race car on the track, he would support me and I would support him.
“Those guys on our team, it's a really, really tight knit bunch of guys and we're all going to support each other, because we're all going to make mistakes in different situations and I don't think we have necessarily made a mistake, but I think we have definitely had to react to some situations throughout the last couple years and I think it's made us stronger as we move forward and better on a weekly basis as a team.
“So, it's just part of what we do. And I think when you look at the performance of the race cars on the racetrack, it's absolutely unbelievable.”
You gotta believe...
Despite the recent adversity, Harvick understands, “I’m just lucky to drive the cars.” His comeback win at Phoenix last year in the Eliminator Round to transfer into the Champion Round was no fluke. Neither was his victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win it all.
While the test of entering Dover 23 points outside of 12th-place — the final position that transfers to the Contender Round — might appear daunting to some teams, Harvick loves the challenge. No, he’s never won at the Monster Mile. And to accomplish that task this weekend, Harvick will have to defeat Johnson, who has a record 10 wins at the track, including three victories in the last four races.
But Harvick believes in his team. There isn't anybody else he’d rather take with him into the battle.
“We're confident in our ability and the things that we do to prepare the cars and race on any given weekend,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at the scenario, obviously it is what it is. And I think last year we were able to perform and get the results that we needed.
“It's really the same thing that we did last week, it just didn't all work out in the last three laps. So I think as we go into this weekend, I think it's been a really good racetrack for us, performance‑wise, over the last year and a half.
“Obviously, for me personally, I like these types of situations, I think they're different and fun and it's all in the approach and how you react to them. So I think as a team, we'll do everything in our ‑‑ from a preparation standpoint the same. But I think if you can get the result and get that sensation of winning and all the things that come with the type of situation that we're in, it's even more fun.”