Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – BRISTOL, TN – Kevin Harvick was all smiles and optimism Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, as eager for another week of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup racing as he’s been in his championship career.
Winning will do that to you. And Harvick is winning A LOT. With a series best seven trophies already – earning two in the last four races – optimism and enthusiasm are not a problem.
“It’s fun,” Harvick said smiling. “The biggest thing for me is I’ve been totally on the opposite side of this and you come to the race track knowing that you don’t have a chance every week and what are you gonna do to fix it and how are you gonna fix it.
“Now, you know you have a shot. Coming to the race track you’ve got a group of guys and a team and an organization and a manufacturer and everybody who is trying to figure out how to keep it going and doing everything that they can to keep progressing the cars and the team and everything around it.
“For me, it’s kind of full circle and I think over the last almost five years now we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success – nothing is really different this year.”
Even with all the success, Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) typically proves challenging even for the best.
Harvick boasts the fifth best driver rating among his competition and has won at the famous half-miler twice before, most recently this same Fall night race in 2016. But his primary championship challenger, six-time 2018 winner Kyle Busch has proven to be a master at Bristol with 21 wins spread out in NASCAR’s three elite series.
He has won seven times in the Cup race, including the last two races at Bristol.
Harvick, however, is not engaged in a one-up game with the competition. With the luxury of the trophy haul and playoff ticket secured, his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team can be aggressive. Their work each week is a reflection of the high standard of preparation and expectation that will ultimately benefit them when the 10-race playoff run begins Sept. 16 in Las Vegas.
“I think the success is obviously what everybody is here for and when you get that on the weekends and you’re able to do those types of things and you don’t have to be a part of the process and the push to fight every week of what you do to get there, I think that really helps keep everybody motivated,” Harvick said.
Keeping everyone motivated and on top of the game hasn’t appeared to be any problem for this team, led by crew chief Rodney Childers. And not only are they working hard, they are enjoying the moments of reward.
On Sunday, Harvick’s six-year old son Keelan was allowed to meet up with his father on track after the victory lap. He gladly collect the checkered flag, climbed in his dad race-winning car and waved the flag out the window as Harvick drove to victory lane.
“…it was just a great moment and super-happy that NASCAR was willing to cooperate and let us do what we wanted to do,” Harvick said, grinning again at the moment. “What a memory and to be able to do that as a dad, all you dads know that’s pretty cool to celebrate stuff like that with your son at work.”
Going forward, Harvick has reason to believe he can keep the success going. Closing out the regular season on a high note is statistically favorable too.
Harvick has won at the Darlington, S.C. and Indianapolis tracks, next up after Bristol and close out the regular season. Both of those victories came from the pole position too.
He’s finished in the top-five in four of the last five races at Darlington and led 518 of his career total 581 laps at that track in that time frame. He won from pole at Indy in 2003 and has finished in the top-10 in the last four races there.
“We were able to win a championship [in 2014], but that was a year that I put the performance right up next to where we are [now], even 2015, but I think this year we’ve just capitalized on more moments to win races and in the end that’s really what it’s all about is how many times do you get to Victory Lane,” Harvick said.