Kevin Harvick’s nickname in recent years has been "The Closer," for his ability to win races that he hasn’t dominated or controlled. But there’s a lot more to it for Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers and the entire No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team.
Right now, two races into the 2016 edition of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, it’s winning time. It’s time for the very best of the best to step up and first win races and then win championships.
Harvick and his team have been there and done that.
Twice as a driver, Harvick won the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship and three times he and wife DeLana fielded championship-winning teams as owners in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
When he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Harvick won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in his first year. Last year, he finished as the runner-up to Kyle Busch’s remarkable title run.
Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Harvick led just eight of 300 laps, while Martin Truex Jr. led 141 and Matt Kenseth led 105. Harvick won with great late-race pass of Kenseth on Lap 295 of the 300-lap race.
So naturally people will trot out "The Closer" narrative once again.
Harvick is a champion as an owner or driver in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series.
There’s a difference between being a good — or even, great — driver and being a champion driver.
There’s a lot of top-flight NASCAR drivers who’ve never won a Cup championship — Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr., to name just a few. And those guys are all top notch, no doubt.
But Harvick is a champion and they’re not, and that puts him in a different class.
Harvick can be a ball-buster, as his tirade after a series of horrible pit stops at Darlington proved, but he possesses the intangibles that all champions must have. There’s a combination of intellect, drive, competitiveness and, more than anything, a fundamental understanding of what winning requires that Harvick has. Not everybody does.
Does this mean Harvick will win another championship this year?
No, it doesn’t.
There are lot good and great racers out there, with the toughest competition being the five Toyota drivers from Joe Gibbs and Furniture Row and the two Ford pilots from Team Penske. All of them have shown the speed to win and six of the seven have won more than one race this year.
It’s brutal and intense competition now that it’s winning time.
But to downplay Harvick’s chances this time of year would be downright foolish.
See, he doesn’t just close out races.
He closes out seasons, too.
And I fully expect him to be in the final four at Homestead eight weeks from now.