Column: Previewing The NASCAR Weekend At Kansas; Can Harvick Finally Break Into Victory Lane?

Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – KANSAS CITY, KS – With eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories in 2018 and a near-miss at his second Cup title, Kevin Harvick came into the 2019 season feeling understandably confident in himself and his Stewart-Haas Racing team.

But 11 races into the season, Harvick and his No. 4 team are still surprisingly looking for a first trip to victory lane. That’s not to say they haven’t been close. But as defending winner of Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) Harvick would like nothing better than to right the ship.

Last year, Harvick won this race from the pole position – a place he’s started more than anyone else in history at Kansas (four) – and he also holds the track qualifying record at 197.773 mph (October, 2014). Historically the pole position is the winningest spot on the Kansas grid, producing six winners to date.

Harvick has finished eighth or better in eight of the last 11 Kansas races – six of those times he’s finished either first or second. Three times he’s won, three times he’s finished runner-up. During that stretch he’s led 668 laps total – most in the field. In 10 of those 11 races, he led double-digit laps.

This season, however, Harvick and essentially the rest of the field find themselves playing catch-up to Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske, whose teams have combined to earn 10 of the first 11 trophies. The other typically “hot” driver at Kansas, two-time race winner Martin Truex Jr. has won two of the last three 2019 Monster Energy Series races, including last week at Dover, Del. in his new No. 19 Toyota ride for JGR. He swept the two Kansas races in 2017 en route to winning the series championship.

Last year, Harvick had already won four times before the series arrived at the Kansas 1.5-miler, where he won again. In fact, his SHR team had five wins total through the opening 11 races in 2018 with Kansas’ own Clint Bowyer winning an early season trophy in Martinsville, Va. too.

That the Penske Fords have won this year – twice with Brad Keselowski and once with Joey Logano – assuages the situation some for the SHR Ford team. But patience is not a practical virtue as the regular season approaches the halfway point. SHR has 25 top-10 and 10 top-five finishes among its four drivers but that conspicuous “0” where it would prefer a higher number.

Harvick is third in the points standings despite being the only driver among the top seven without a victory yet. He trails three-time race winner Kyle Busch by 63 points and is 58 points behind second place Logano.

“Our cars ran fine at Texas,’’ Harvick said of the similar 1.5-mile venue the series has already competed on. “Obviously, we had some isolated problems. Our cars from the Stewart-Haas standpoint haven’t won a race, but they ran fine at Texas.

“We’ve been in contention. We were plenty good at Bristol (Tenn.) and Richmond (Va.), so it’s really just a detail thing at this point to get one of them to victory lane.

CLOSE BATTLE ATOP THE NASCAR GANDER OUTDOORS TRUCK SERIES STANDINGS

The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship became even tighter following Johnny Sauter’s record third consecutive win at Dover (Del.) International Speedway last weekend. He now trails ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger by only four points in the standings.

Enfinger re-took the lead with a fourth-place finish at Dover, while previous championship leader Stewart Friesen finished 12th. Although Friesen was disappointed to fall 11 points back in the title chase, that was the first time he was running at the finish in three career Dover races, so he still comes away feeling encouraged.

Only 23 points separate Enfinger and fifth place Ben Rhodes. Defending series champion Brett Moffitt is 14 points behind Enfinger in fourth place.

Sauter (Dover) and rookie Austin Hill (Daytona) are the only truck regulars to score a victory so far in 2019, but that should change again this week with primarily championship contenders competing at the Kansas 1.5-miler.

Matt Crafton is the only multi-time winner (2013 and 2015) in the field this week. The two-time Gander Trucks champion is keeping the title contenders honest. He’s ranked sixth in the standings – 37 points behind Enfinger – and has top-10 finishes in five of the last six Kansas races, including three top-five showings.

Additionally, he finished either first or second at Kansas for four consecutive years between 2013-16

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