Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – KANNAPOLIS, NC – In the hours following Kevin Harvick’s impressive victory at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, his Stewart-Haas Racing team revealed a very philosophic path to not only the No. 4 Ford’s success, but to an organization operating on all cylinders.
Harvick’s work in the car – four wins in the opening 11 races of the season – isn’t just a hell of a start, but a historical feat that hasn’t been accomplished for 11 years – since Jimmie Johnson won four of the first 11 races of the 2007 season. Yet for all the sporting significance, crew chief Rodney Childers explained that the focus of the entire SHR team isn’t what they’ve done well, but what they need to do well, next week.
It’s a fundamental approach, that’s quite obviously served the organization well. No rearview mirrors here – even if there are a lot of trophies to see in them this season.
“When you have confidence in the cars and the tools and everything going on, I think the biggest thing is just all the cylinders are clicking right now, and they’re working together,” Childers said Sunday. “The biggest thing is we haven’t went back and talked about the races that we’ve won. We go back and we talk about how to get better every week, and we build better race cars and they build better engines, and we’ve done better on pit road.
“To keep this going, we’re going to have to get a lot better every single week, and to keep it to where it needs to be when the championship comes around. Like I said, everybody is working hard. All the guys are building great cars, and Kevin is doing a great job here at the racetrack.”
When you’ve had the kind of success Harvick and Childers have had, it would be easy to give in to temptation and to feel secure. The No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford has a series best four wins, won a Busch Pole position [at Talladega] and has led the most laps (741) in Cup competition this season. As a matter of perspective, Harvick has led a hefty 243 miles more than the season’s current championship leader and three-time race winner Kyle Busch.
Through the opening 11 races of the season, Harvick has nine finishes of seventh or better – eight of those nine races, he finished fifth or better.
The only two times he hasn’t scored a top-seven result – were because he did not finish the race. His day in the season-opening Daytona 500 (31st-place) was cut short because of a crash. And his 35th-place showing at Auto Club Speedway was the result of a mechanical problem.
Sunday was a historical day for the SHR team with three of its drivers finishing among the top-five for the first time – Clint Bowyer was second and Kurt Busch was fifth. And the team’s fourth driver Aric Almirola was 11th.
Bowyer has already won a race (Martinsville) to essentially earn his Playoff ticket. And the four are ranked in order in the season standings very similar to the order they finished Sunday’s race. Harvick is third in the points – 40 behind leader Kyle Busch. Bowyer is fourth in the standings, followed by Kurt Busch (sixth) and team newcomer Almirola (11th).
“I think [former NFL quarterback] Brett Favre said this in a quote once, is that success is kind of one of the worst things that can happen to you because some guys feel like they’ve got where they need to be and they lose that intensity, and that’s something that I feel like our group is really good about, not losing that focus on the fact that we’re a technology driven sport, and we have to keep pushing all the time to keep finding more things to go faster and be better than we were the week before, and Rodney really hit on it there,” Tony Stewart said Sunday.
“We go back and we celebrate the wins, but instead of looking behind us at what we did, we look forward at what we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to do the next week, and that’s something that from the ownership side, for Gene and I, we’re really proud of our group.”
“Greg Zipadelli and the aero group and the chassis department and everybody at Roush Yates Engines and Mobil 1, they all work really hard. I mean, it’s just a bunch of people that really have their eye on the prize, so to speak,” Stewart continued. “It’s days like today, that you can get four cars that are running as well as these four did today, it’s an awesome feeling.
“We’ll high five each other at the shop tomorrow, but at the same time, we’re digging in for the next week and trying to get ready for Kansas and trying to do the same thing again next weekend.”