Kevin Harvick is a future NASCAR Hall of Famer. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. He’s going to be a First Ballot HOF driver too. His 58 career wins rank ninth all-time. Literally everyone ahead of him minus recent retiree Jimmie Johnson right now is in the Hall. Also, his 58 trips to victory lane rank seventh in the modern era (1972-present) though and his 54 wins in the playoff era (2004-present) are third most too.
What’s hard to believe though is, Harvick has just one Daytona 500 triumph to his credit. What’s even harder to believe is that he has won only one championship as well.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver enters the 2021 season in his 21st year in the sport’s top level. So much has changed since he started in Cup as a 25 year old taking over Dale Earnhardt’s ride after Earnhardt was tragically killed in the 2001 Daytona 500.
He’s seen so many different ways to win a championship. From the old points way for three years, to the initial playoff format that started in 2004 to the new modern one that began in 2014. One thing that’s remained constant though is a sport that’s ever evolving has been Harvick’s ability to win each year.
In fact, you can make a case now that he’s driving better than he’s ever had before. 35 of his 58 wins (60%) have come since he’s joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. So have 26 of his 31 (84%) of his poles.
He’s actually won 36% of his races (21-for-58) over the last three seasons though at that. The thing is, he’s not had a championship in that span either.
Harvick’s only title came back in 2014, one of his worst statistical seasons in the seven that he’s been at SHR. How crazy is that? He had just two wins in his first 30 starts of that season. Remarkably, he won the title that year but not last year to when he won a series high nine times overall. All nine of those wins in fact came in the first 29 races too. Furthermore, he won twice in the three race opening round. Then, the bottom dropped out.
Can he rebound after not even making the Championship 4 last year and dominate in 2021. What did he learn off the last three years to turn 2021 into something special?
“My focus is always on week to week winning races,” Harvick said on Friday. “In the end it didn’t really matter. We ran terrible at Phoenix, so it’s not like you were going to win the championship anyway. It didn’t really matter as we got to Phoenix and with the way that we ran.
“I think you look back on it and you take the things that you did at each one of those race tracks and you try to make them better because that’s really what it’s all about is, ‘How do I stay focused on a week to week basis? What did we do last year at this particular racetrack? What did we do good? What did we do bad? Show me the strengths. Show me the weaknesses. Show me where we beat them. Show me where we were getting beat.’
“And it’s the same preparation over and over and over, and the whole championship layout is something that is what it is, but it changes zero in your preparation. It really doesn’t change a thing.”
We know Harvick’s stats aren’t likely to take a dip. What’s crazy is, he’s had at least 20 top 10’s in every season since 2013. He’s had 23 or more every year since 2015. He’s had 20 or more top fives in two of the last three years as well and has led at least 1,000 laps in a single season in five of his seven years at the helm with SHR.
Can he turn 2021 into a banner year?
“If they haven’t, I don’t want to talk about it,” Harvick said on if his crew could have a let down early in 2021 with a hangover from his last year ended. “I think as the season ended and we got about a week through it I was done and over with it and had a lot to do moving forward. In this business, you just don’t have time to dwell on it. If you’re gonna continue to be good at what you do, you have to be able to put your mind back to work and take the things that went wrong and make them better, re-focus and you have to use those things as motivation in order to make those particular things better.
“I think those guys know that. I feel like I’m wasting my breath talking about everything that happened last year because we’ve talked about what went wrong and I’ve moved on and tried to be ready for this particular season—to do the things that you need to do in order to get the season started right and be competitive on a week to week basis. They know that I’ll get pretty frustrated if they want to sit and dwell on what happened last year when we’re already into just over a week away from the Daytona 500. They better have moved on. If they haven’t, they don’t talk to me about it.”
Which would he also like more, a championship or another Daytona 500?
This will be Harvick’s 20th start in the Great American Race. He’s had seven top five finishes and nine top 10’s. But, three of the last four years have seen him finish 22nd or worse. He rode around at the back in last year’s race and avoided calamity to finish fifth. It was his third top five since 2015 but those are also his only top five’s in the Daytona 500 in his last 11 tries as well.
Do they have it in them this year?
It would be special for him to get his first Daytona 500 win for SHR to give Tony Stewart his second Daytona 500 as a team owner. It would also be special for him to get another piece of hardware come November too.
Harvick said it took a while to get out of Earnhardt’s shadow. It took doing well on his own and gaining his old sponsors while also shedding the Goodwrench image.
Then, when he joined SHR, he really came into his own. A second championship and second Daytona 500 crown would just be icing on the cake.
“You go to the race track and, for me, I’m not going to go to the racetrack and points race,” Harvick said. “We’re going to go to the racetrack and try to put ourselves in position to win the race and then the second thing when you can’t do that is gain the most points that you can on that particular day and you go home.
“It’s just not something that I overthink. It’s not something that really gets me up or down, winning or losing. It doesn’t. It doesn’t really affect how I prepare on Monday. We can finish dead last or we can finish first and I’m gonna do the exact same thing when it comes to Monday morning. That part doesn’t change for me.”