Kevin Harvick said during his preseason media availability prior to last month’s Daytona 500 that when looking back on his 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, that there was no time to sulk. They couldn’t get hung up on feeling sorry for themselves over how the final few races of last year ended.
Despite having a series-high nine wins in 2020, Harvick wasn’t even in the Championship 4 at the Phoenix Raceway. He went the entire second and third rounds of the playoffs without a victory, which with how tight things are in NASCAR’s premiere series these days, even having nine wins in his bank wasn’t enough to allow him to just skate on by to a final round spot.
Still, Harvick wasn’t going to sit around this past offseason and mull on how disappointing the end was. It was time to focus on 2021 and ensure he’s not in that position again. He felt like no one on his Stewart-Haas Racing team would be looking back either. It was all about moving forward and trying to win a championship during the upcoming season.
Well, he’s in another position of trying to move forward but also learn on how he can learn from what was left behind.
Harvick, started 2021 off looking like a silent title contender again. No one was talking about him after scoring finishes of fourth, sixth and fifth respectively. But, we’re talking about him now following a disappointing 20th place result in last Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It was a rough afternoon overall for the SHR camp as none of their four cars even finished on the lead lap.
“You can’t just step back,” Harvick said of last week’s result. “You have to push buttons. This is not an abnormal situation for any race team. You’re gonna have those particular weekends, and you have to be a source of information (for the team). You’re not gonna fix it. Like, I have no chance of fixing it. I’m merely the source of information for what happens in the car.
“It’s way too technical, there’s way too many engineers involved, and you have to be confident in the things you’re saying and feeling to deliver that information, then ask enough questions to make sure the direction and the magnitude of your suggestions is put into the proper channels – to make sure it’s delivered in the appropriate way as an emergency, or just an isolated problem, or whatever the scenario is.”
One thing is, as Harvick notes, that you have to look at everything in order to ensure your setup is right the next time around.
“You have to look at the things you did that led to this particular road,” Harvick continued. “Is it your simulation? Is it the set-ups that your engineering group put in the race car? Did you do things right on the seven-post? Do you need to go into the wind tunnel?
“You have to try and tie all those pieces together. But Vegas in general, it’s a real balance between all those things from mechanical grip and aerodynamics and aerodynamic balance and bump stop loads and spring choices … It’s just a difficult race track to get all of those things right.”
Next up is the Phoenix Raceway. It’s the perfect place for Harvick to get his No. 4 Ford right again. Harvick, has reached victory lane nine times in his career on the one-mile Arizona race track including a runner-up in last year’s spring race.
“For me, Phoenix is a great example, you look back at the first race last year, and we had a chance to win the race and had the best car (finished second, led 67 laps). Then we go back for the second race and things didn’t go our way because it’s not what you expected (finished seventh, led no laps). That’s just part of what we do,” Harvick said.
“You guys, sometimes, see the results and look at it and say, ‘Oh, he’s gonna be this or that.’ Really, it’s just the same. It’s really no different. As you get into the meetings on Monday, the conversations may be different. But it’s the same routine week after week for me.”
The thing that Harvick is looking to focus on though is, out of his nine Phoenix triumphs, none have come since the reconfiguration. He won the race on the old configuration in March 2018 but when they came back that November, things were different. He’s finished fifth, ninth, fifth, second and seventh respectively in that span.
While those are great results, he actually was way better on the previous layout.
Harvick, had eight top two finishes in his previous 11 races before the configuration currently in place began. In, fact, from March 2012 through March 2018 (13 races), he finished worse than sixth just once with nine top two’s. He’s only had one top two in the last five races on this configuration.
While a top 10 is almost certain this weekend, can he vie for the win?