Kevin Harvick’s victory at Texas Motor Speedway, which secured him a spot in the championship race, has team co-owner Tony Stewart feeling very encouraged.
“This team, these guys, they never give in, they never get the morale down. If they have a bad week, seems like these guys in particular dig in deeper and get their feet in the ground,” Stewart said. “It wasn’t just the fact of winning this race, but it’s just how it was won, how Kevin drove those last 20, 25 laps.
“I know Kevin, and I can tell you watching his driving style, there’s something that field and those other three guys that are going to make it to Homestead here in a couple weeks, they’ve got something to be worried about. I’ve seen this man when he gets locked in like this, and he’s strong right now.”
In 2014, Harvick won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship in the first year NASCAR rolled out its elimination-style championship format. It was also Harvick’s first year at Stewart-Haas Racing.
A year after winning the title, Harvick was back in the picture but finished runner-up in 2015 behind Kyle Busch. The No. 4 team did not make it to the finale last year. However, in locking up a spot Sunday, Harvick gets his third shot at a championship in four years.
The final spot in the Championship 4 will be decided next weekend at Phoenix. Whoever it is will join Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
“I honestly haven’t even really thought about it yet,” Harvick said of his competition. “I think if you look at the way the year has gone, you would expect to race the 78 [Truex] and the 18 [Busch] for the championship. I think everybody from there was kind of a little bit of an unknown. … For us, Homestead has been great.
“We’ve won some races there. We’ve been ultra-competitive there. It’s a very unique race track that is nothing like this one, that is nothing like any racetrack we go to with the shape of the corners, the multiple-variable banking. The two ends of the racetrack are very different.
“If you see somebody hit it that particular weekend, they can be on. But it’s never over until the checkered flag drops. We saw that last year. The three best cars didn’t win the championship. Two of them wrecked, Jimmie [Johnson] wound up winning the championship. You just got to go down there and race. If we do like we did [Sunday], we should at least have a chance. That’s all you can ask for, is a chance, right?”
Recent performance suggests Harvick & Co. have hit on things at the right time. Since the playoffs started, Harvick had led 283 laps, picked up three stage wins and has five top-10 finishes. Speed-wise, Harvick didn’t seem to lack for it at Texas. A high-speed 1.5-miler, Harvick not only ran up front but tracked down and passed the fastest car in the series for the victory.
Three or four months ago the conversation within the team was whether Harvick could point his way through each round. Consistently being in contention for race wins and leading laps was not something the team felt they were doing well. But the focus shifted to the mile-and-a-half program when the playoffs started, just as it has in the past.
“When we got done with Charlotte, OK, we can still win a championship,” Harvick said of his third-place finish. “Those are two different thought processes of how you go through this championship process of 10 weeks. Especially as you get later in the game, as you wind up with less and less cars; their teams all step up, usually have their best performances of the year as well.
“Hopefully, we can keep that rolling. But the mindset is definitely we think we can win, as it was not three months ago. That’s just the difference that three months has made.”
And that’s why from Stewart on down there are championship vibes once again around the No. 4 team.