In the space of two weeks, Kevin Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team went from seemingly being dead in the water to now being thought of as a possible favorite in the upcoming NASCAR Playoffs. With wins at the Michigan International Speedway and the Richmond Raceway, the No. 4 Ford crew is locked into the championship hunt and hoping to carry their recent momentum to a title.
Considering the organization’s recent performance, there was little reason for optimism with their 46-year-old star driver in the midst of a losing streak that spanned all the way back to September of 2020 and their other three cars only scoring two wins over the last two years. However, SHR’s Chief Competition Officer, Greg Zipadelli, had noticed an overall uptick in performance prior to the wins of the last two weekends.
“We go every week to win with all four of our teams performing to the highest level,” Zipadelli remarked in a recent NASCAR Media appearance. “That’s always the goal. The 4 car has done a good job in the last – honestly, you have to go to Nashville, Sonoma, Pocono- I think it gets overlooked at how good they ran at some of those race tracks. They didn’t have an opportunity to win or lead a bunch of laps but they had speed. It kind of started then and the last two weeks they’ve done a great job of executing, things have gone their way, the cars have unloaded with a little more raw speed and it’s allowed them to have an opportunity to win and they’ve been able to capitalize on that.”
Chase Briscoe won for SHR earlier in the season at Phoenix Raceway and drivers Aric Almirola, who won in 2021 at New Hampshire, and Cole Custer, who won at Kentucky in 2020, had been showing bursts of speed as well. All four of their cars looked like contenders at Richmond until misfortune struck.
“I think we’ve made gains but I don’t think, by any means, you can sit and say you can stop working,” Zipadelli emphasized. “Kevin had a really good car last week. He drove around the car for the lead and never looked back. There’s always room for improvement. I think what I look at last week was all four cars were fast. If things went well, if Cole didn’t have his issue and Chase didn’t have his fire, I feel like we had the potential to have four cars in the top-10 or top-12 pretty easily.”
The former crew chief who led teams that prepared championship cars for Tony Stewart in 2002 and 2005 says the organization he is now in charge of is looking to find more consistency with all of its cars.
“To me, that’s something that as a group we’ve struggled with,” Zipadelli stated. “We’ve unloaded every week and had at least one car, if not two, qualify in the top-10 or top-12 and run there but we haven’t been able to have all four cars have speed and execution. From that perspective it shows that all the work we have been doing is going in the right direction but it’s the time of year where everybody is working just as hard as you are. You’ve got to continue to push and build all the speed up in these cars as you can on a weekly basis.”
When it comes to the No. 4 team in particular, Zipadelli believes Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers were able to emerge from the struggles by staying focused on the task at hand.
“I think they’ve done a good job handling it and not letting it tear them up or making a bigger deal out of it,” Zipadelli explained. “They’ve gone every week and raced as hard as they could to put themselves in position. I’ve been in the same position before where you feel like you’re doing everything you have been doing and you’re working just as hard but you’re just not getting the results. As a whole, I would say us as a group, the Fords as a group, have been off a little this year. We’re working hard along with all the other Ford teams to peak at the right time.”
As with any team, if the elements come together at the right time, Zipadelli believes Harvick could make a deep run in the NASCAR Playoffs.
“I think if we continue to progress and keep working on our cars, the pit crew keeps doing what they’ve been doing, and Rodney keeps his group focused and executing like they have the last six weeks or so, I think they’re going to have a shot to move further into the Playoffs.”
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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