Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are on somewhat unfamiliar ground as the AAA Texas 500 approaches this weekend. After having qualified as one of the four drivers to compete for a title in four of the past five season, the No. 4 crew is currently outside the NASCAR Playoffs cutoff with Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway and next week’s event at ISM Raceway in Phoenix remaining before the four racers who will contest the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship are decided.
With Martin Truex, Jr. already locked into the Championship 4 by virtue of his win last Sunday at Martinsville, Harvick currently sits 24 points behind Denny Hamlin, 17 behind Kyle Busch and 14 in back of Joey Logano as a total of seven championship hopefuls vie for the three remaining spots going into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion has won three races during the course of the 2019 season to get to this point. However, the No. 4 Ford has not led a lap in any of the previous four races and has trailed the Toyota machines of Joe Gibbs Racing in terms of speed over the past few weeks.
But the 43-year-old driver and his team are working to catch up with their rivals. At the same, the veteran driver feels like his team has, for the most part, been able to make the most of what they have had in 2019.
“I don’t feel like we’ve had that knock out speed that the Gibbs cars have had on a week-to-week basis,” Harvick pointed out during a media availability on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “We’ve had it a few times and have been able to capitalize on that, but I feel like we’ve done a good job of minimizing the mistakes. It’s been the solid execution of things, except for the few weeks that we’ve had here lately, that have kept us in the mix all year.”
After a 2018 season in which he was dominant for long stretches of time on his way to eight victories, this current season brings to mind for the Bakersfield, CA native a previous year in which his team suffered through some inconsistent times.
“It reminds of 2017 when we switched to Ford,” Harvick explained in the Texas Motor Speedway media center. “We have had the speed but it’s been sporadic in different races as to whether you hit it or don’t hit it. Our execution has been our number one thing that we’ve done that has kept us in the mix, in my opinion, consistently on a week-to-week basis.”
But despite their overall execution during the season, Harvick says that the most recent races have not been his team’s best. Recent finishes of 17th, 9th and 7th after a run that had seen them score five top-5’s in six races are something the SHR bunch hopes to improve upon beginning this weekend in the Lone Star State.
“We’ve done nothing but shoot ourselves in the foot the last few weeks,” the former champion declared. “We started last at Kansas, we crashed at Talladega, and I don’t know what we did last week but I guess it was just typical Martinsville. I feel like we’ve probably had top-5 cars in those three weeks at the end of the race and didn’t have that solid execution to finish in front of where you probably should have.”
Overall, however, Harvick and his team are far from conceding and plan to continue the fight to the very end.
“I think the experience of the No. 4 team and the execution and the things that we have done have definitely made the most out of what we’ve had as an organization,” Harvick said. “We haven’t been as consistent with the speed as I think we’d like to be. It’s difficult in that we started behind then guessed the wrong direction then migrated back to the same direction. We’ve just been in a number of different directions and still not 100% sure every week of where we need to be with all the different things you can do to the car from the aero side of things so it’s definitely been a fight every single week to get the finishes that we’ve had and to keep ourselves in contention.”
One thing Harvick has working in his favor in terms of forging his way into the championship round is that even if he is unable to qualify as one of the four remaining drivers based on points, he has an excellent chance of winning his way into the mix. ISM Raceway in Phoenix has been his best track over the course of his career in terms of collecting wins. Throughout his time in NASCAR, Harvick has visited victory in the desert southwest a total of nine times in the Cup Series on the that tricky one-mile layout.
Just because he is below the cut line right now does not mean Kevin Harvick and his crew are out of contention for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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