CRANDALL: How far can Harvick grind it out?

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CRANDALL: How far can Harvick grind it out?

Insights & Analysis

CRANDALL: How far can Harvick grind it out?

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Kevin Harvick called Kansas one of the worst weekends the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team has had in a while. He finished ninth.

To hear Harvick say such things despite bagging his 22nd top-10 finish of the season was not surprising. This team has continued to find success despite the continued push to improve its cars (the organization admitted to being so far off in the middle of the year they were changing course) and to master the new rules package. On that basis, anyone who has listened closely to Harvick this year might have picked up on a recurring phrase.

Grind it out.

Dover. Las Vegas. Sonoma. Those are just a few races where Harvick chose some variant of those words after the checkered flag. In Kansas, Harvick finished ninth after having to come from dead last when he didn’t get to qualify because his car failed inspection multiple times – a car that he said wasn’t very good in a race in which his team also struggled on pit road.

“Every year is going to be frustrating no matter how good or bad it is,” said Harvick recently when asked if it was satisfying to be posting the numbers he is despite the uphill battle. “I think this year is obviously different than other years. It’s been rewarding in the same sense that you have been able to try to make it better, and have made it better.

“So every year is going to be different; I think you know that coming in after you’ve done this for a while, and they’re all rewarding in different ways. And in the end, you’ve got the same thing that you can go race for as you did in a great year.”

Although Harvick hasn’t shown the same dominance that he did a year ago when he scored eight race wins and led nearly 2,000 laps, he does have three wins and the fourth-best average finish of any driver this season. More, Harvick’s 22 top-10s are second most in the series. What the team has been doing well is minimizing its mistakes while maximizing its finishes with stage points.

“Well, it’s not the first time we’ve done this – we switched from Chevrolet to Ford (before 2017) and changed the whole company direction,” said Harvick of his team. “They’ve done this before. At some point you know it’s not always going to go smooth, and if you can keep those dips down, the spike as little as possible, that’s your goal. You’re going to have some dips in the performance, and how you get through those and how long it takes is really what our team has done a good job at, and kept us in contention.”

But can grinding it out win a championship?

“Yeah,” said Harvick. “Joey Logano did it last year.”

Also from the Kansas notebook:

  • Are you taking Denny Hamlin as a championship threat seriously yet? Aside from closing the deal in four weeks by holding the title, there isn’t much more Hamlin and can say or do to show this is a new version of himself that is dialed in for a title run. Five wins, 21 top-10 finishes, and an overall average finish of 9.3. In the playoffs his average finish is 7.6, and he’s won at each of the four remaining tracks in the playoffs.
  • Thank God there was a camera angle NBC could show detailing where leader Denny Hamlin was when the caution lights came on. The longer it took without proof Hamlin hadn’t taken the white flag, the more worried I got it would open the door to accusations that NASCAR was setting up more late-race dramatics and even trying to help its most popular driver, Chase Elliott.
  • Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer got… up close and personal. Calling it a fight would be an insult to genuine physical altercations, but it provided some talking points and additional footage for NASCAR’s playoff highlight reel. After all, NASCAR has never met a fight it didn’t use for promotional purposes.
  • There was one part of the incident that wasn’t a good look, and that was one of the Stewart-Haas Racing team members grabbing Reddick around the neck. Either let the drivers settle it and stay back, or try to pull your driver away. Touching the opposing driver – and using a chokehold, no less – shouldn’t be tolerated, and shame on NASCAR if they don’t do something about it.
  • One last thing on this. Custer was mad that Reddick couldn’t “keep his car on the bottom” and slid up the track. From all angles that NBC showed – if they had the correct incident – it looked innocent enough. Reddick never made contact with Custer as Custer went up and bounced off the wall. Drivers being mad in the heat of the moment, and especially in the playoffs, is understandable. But it almost came off like another driving whining about being raced too hard.
  • Garrett Smithley, no one wants to be you right now. After being criticized in Las Vegas by Kyle Busch, he was again the center of unwanted attention. It’s really hard to defend this one. Whether it’s Smithley or any driver in the position of being much slower to the leaders, he or she needs to be more self-aware of where they are and what’s going on than any other driver. No excuses. It also doesn’t help to say you were “just riding” because again, you should be hyper-aware of where you are, who is around you, and what is coming much faster.
  • By the way, Brandon Jones won the Xfinity Series race for anyone who may have forgotten with all the above. Jones finally broke through for a victory in his 134th start, and whether it was right place at the right time or not, he capitalized, and a win is a win.

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