Reason to be 'Happy': Harvick leading charge into Pocono race
JUN 07, 2014 1:06p ET
If early returns are any indication, the Stewart-Haas Racing squad is likely to be awfully tough in Sunday's Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Kevin Harvick, who has been fast most everywhere he's run so far this season, has had the dominant car so far at the three-turn, 2.5-mile Northeast Pennsylvania track.
Friday at Pocono, Harvick was third in the day's lone practice and qualified his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet on the outside of Row 2 behind pole-sitter Denny Hamlin, Harvick's teammate Kurt Busch and 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski.
Harvick picked up even more on Saturday, when he was first in both single-lap speed and 10-consecutive-lap average speed in the first of two practice rounds on the day.
Harvick is one of three drivers to win twice so far this season and he certainly has a strong chance to become the first three-time winner on Sunday.
"The Budweiser Chevy is really fast," Harvick said. "We just have to put a whole day together and right now, it's running really good."
During the final Happy Hour practice, Harvick had a brief scare, thinking he had an engine problem, which turned out to be a lubricant leak in the transmission. The SHR squad repaired the issue and Harvick should be good to go.
That's not to say the race is Harvick's to lose.
The three drivers who outqualified Harvick have combined to win seven Sprint Cup victories at Pocono -- four for Hamlin, two for Kurt Busch and one for Keselowski.
Hamlin's pole on Friday was his third here at Pocono, and after winning his first two poles, Hamlin went on to win those races as well. That bodes well for Hamlin's chances on Sunday, though in general, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have not been as fast as the Hendrick Motorsports/SHR Chevrolets.
During Happy Hour, Hendrick Motorsports engines powered the four fastest cars of Harvick, Kurt Busch, Johnson and Stewart and 10 of the top 15 on the speed charts.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is another driver to keep an eye out for on Sunday. During the first practice, Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports crew swapped out the transmission in the car after the driver reported a vibration.
In Happy Hour, Earnhardt still had vibration problems, but he said the handling of his car was much better. Earnhardt was sixth in Happy Hour in single-lap speed and first in 10-consecutive-lap average.
"It's not in the motor and it's not in the driveline," Earnhardt said of his vibration. "So it's got to be in a wheel bearing or something. But they'll figure it out and change everything. If they don't find it, we'll just have to race it."
That said, Earnhardt was pleased with where the No. 88 ran in Happy Hour.
"We made some good gains in between practices and real happy with the speed of the car right there," he said. "And I think the balance can get a little better and we can improve even more, so we'll work on that."