Kevin Harvick has a few things working in his favor at the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Starting as the second seed – he led the series with seven points-paying wins but came in behind Kyle Busch in regular-season points – additional stage or race wins could give him a lead of close to a full race worth of points if the playoffs start well. Harvick and Busch start the 10-race stretch with 50 playoff points (2,050 total) after the regular-season standings were reset for the 16 playoff drivers.
And he’s returning to a Las Vegas track where he dominated in March – he led 214 of 267 laps and won all three stages — before a post-race penalty for a window brace failure and side skirt violation.
But a September race in the desert — the first time the Cup Series has visited Vegas in the playoffs — will offer different challenges from the 400-mile spring run.
“We know we went there and won the race at the beginning of the year,” Harvick said at media day on Thursday. “Now we want to go back and do the same thing. But, you have to adapt to all the things that have changed over the last 23 weeks and the weather conditions. There are going to be differences because of the track surface temperature, ambient temperature.
“All of the heat that goes through the racecar affects everything. It affects how big the hole is, how you cool the gear, how you cool the driver and how much tape you have to take off to cool the engine. The brakes are going to get hotter and the tires are going to build pressure faster. Are you going to move up the racetrack earlier because you’re looking for grip? I don’t know. The one thing about this weekend is you have the trucks there, the Xfinity cars there, so the track is going to be pretty rubbered up and different than it is in the spring.”
Harvick said his playoff approach is simple: Win races. He pointed to Kyle Larson’s early exit in last year’s playoffs as an example of how quickly fortunes can change; Larson was third in the championship but saw himself eliminated with a blown engine before he could reach the Round of 8.
“You have to go out and perform and try to do the exact same thing that we did through the first 26 races of the season in the last 10 races – that’s winning races,” Harvick said. “That is the focus and the mindset we need to have because there is no guarantee that you get to the next round.
“The bonus points and playoff points are nice, and you can continue to accumulate those, but there are no guarantees as we saw last year with Kyle Larson. He had a lot of bonus points but still didn’t make it into Homestead. We just have to take it one week at a time – that’s my mentality and we’ll try to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“I just believe the playoff points structure and how the points are structured – you have to go to the Daytona 500 and start collecting bonus points. Martin Truex Jr. proved that last year with the things he did and the way that they went about their regular season. It just kept building all the way through the year. Those playoff points are important and the race wins are even more important. There is nothing that builds more confidence than race wins.”