Just one-quarter of the way through his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick already has two race victories and is the first driver to clinch a slot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, NASCAR’s season-ending, 10-race championship playoff.
Sure, there have been some struggles and hiccups along the way — four finishes of 36th or worse in nine races so far — but thanks to NASCAR’s revised championship format, Harvick is relaxed heading into Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s Aaron’s 499.
Harvick is an excellent restrictor-plate racer, having won at both Talladega and Daytona International Speedway. And his dominating victory at historic Darlington Raceway a couple of weeks ago puts him in an elite class of drivers who have won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and a Talladega race. In fact, the only other active drivers to do so are Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
While winning the marquee races has been great for his career, this much is crystal clear: Harvick joined SHR because he wants to win a championship now.
"I didn’t change teams to get worse," said Harvick, who spent his first 13 seasons at Richard Childress Racing. "I went in with the intentions of being competitive. And you never really know how it’s going to go. … You put everything together with the intentions of trying to improve upon your situation in the past. And I think so far it’s gone really well."
Harvick stressed that the team, which is led by crew chief Rodney Childers, is still getting itself established.
"Every week it’s a constant evaluation of parts, pieces, people, situations," said Harvick. "We’re still gathering notes like we were at Richmond this weekend for the first time as a group, an organization, with the new rules and everything."
This weekend’s race, of course, is pretty much a lottery, as Talladega usually is. Anything can happen here and usually does.
"What about it?" said Harvick when queried about the 2.66-mile superspeedway. "It’s Talladega. It’s one of those places that you go to and you just go there and hold it on the floor and hope that you can make the right decisions throughout the day and try minimize the mistakes on pit road and just hope you miss the wrecks and are in a position to have a chance at the end. It’s kind of a crapshoot."
Harvick said he’s looking forward to knockout qualifying, which will take place at a Sprint Cup restrictor-plate race for the first time Saturday at 1 p.m. ET, with live coverage on FOX.
"The thing that everybody’s probably the most excited about is qualifying, just to get through that and see how it goes for the first time," said Harvick. "It’ll definitely be exciting as we go compared to how qualifying has gone in the past."