Will Kevin Harvick bounce back, contend at Phoenix? “That’s a silly question”

<a href='' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer'>Kevin Harvick</a> at the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400. Photo/Getty Images
Kevin Harvick at the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400. Photo/Getty Images
Jeff Owens

Kevin Harvick scoffs at media members and fans who consider his dismal performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week and wonder about the state of his NASCAR team.

Kevin Harvick, who won a series-high nine races last season, started the 2021 season in typical Kevin Harvick fashion, scoring three straight top-10 finishes and sitting second in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after three races. But Harvick uncharacteristically struggled at Las Vegas, fading from his pole-position starting spot and running mid-pack all day before finishing 20th.

“Not fun” was how Kevin Harvick described his struggles at Las Vegas, where he has two career victories.

“I can just tell you that it’s not that much fun to drive,” he said. “I’d explain it, but it would take way too long.”

Also Read: NASCAR at Phoenix TV schedule, start times

The struggles by Kevin Harvick last week were so surprising it prompted one media person to ask Tuesday if he still thought he could contend this week at Phoenix Raceway, his best track and one where he has won a record nine times.

“That’s a silly question,” Harvick responded. “I think you should go back and look at the first race from last year that we led the most laps and had the fastest car. We wound up finishing second. I would consider us a challenger at just about any race track that you go to, but you’re not gonna be that way all the time. So, I think as we go to Phoenix, you expect to go there and perform well.”

Why Kevin Harvick has been dominant at Phoenix

Kevin Harvick led 67 laps before finishing second in the March race at Phoenix last year. He finished seventh there in November after being eliminated from the NASCAR playoffs.

Also Read: Popular actor to serve as NASCAR Grand Marshal at Phoenix

He has a phenomenal record at the flat, 1-mile track. His nine victories include four in a row and six of eight from 2012-16. He has 15 straight top-10 finishes there, including six wins and 12 top-fives since 2013.

Kevin Harvick, 45, is not discouraged by his disappointing run at Las Vegas. He finished fifth a week earlier on another 1.5-mile track at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kevin Harvick struggles in the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas. Photo/Getty
Kevin Harvick struggles in the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas. Photo/Getty
He attributes the experience to changes NASCAR made to the cars and inspection process this season. Due to the pandemic, NASCAR teams had no offseason testing and no practice and qualifying at most tracks during the season.“Every year you don’t really know what to expect when things change,” he said. “I think, for us, we just missed it on all levels with all the different things that are going on from last year, so I think whether we over-thought it or just missed it has yet to be seen, but we just missed it bad.”

Kevin Harvick must now rely on crew chief Rodney Childers and their engineers at Stewart-Haas Racing to figure out what went wrong. He, too, will be involved in the process.

“You can’t just step back. I think you have to be able to push buttons,” he said. “This is not an abnormal situation for any race team. You’re gonna be in situations where you’re up, you’re down, and that problem-solving is actually a piece of it that is always enjoyable because when you have a weekend — because I wouldn’t characterize the weekend that we had as to how the first three weeks have gone for us on the 4 car — you’re gonna have those particular weekends and you have to be a source of information.”

Kevin Harvick says it’s up to his team, however, to address the aerodynamics and balance of his cars and adjust its systems and programs to make it faster.

“You’re not gonna fix it. I have no chance of fixing it. I’m merely the source of information from what happens in the car,” he said. “It’s way too technical. There’s way too many engineers involved and you have to be confident in the things that you’re saying, feeling to deliver that information and then ask enough questions to make sure that the direction is in kind of the magnitude of your suggestions (and) is put into the proper channels to make sure that it’s delivered in the appropriate way as an emergency or just an isolated problem or whatever the scenario is.”

A few years ago, Kevin Harvick might have let the struggles at Las Vegas bother him or spark frustration or an angry outburst. But the 45-year-old Harvick, the 2014 Cup Series champion, has moved beyond the fiery, emotional version of the driver.

“Most of my races are over by Monday, whether we’ve won or lost,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s really just whatever the challenge is for the next week and how do you recap the last week, so running first or running last is really no different for me on a Monday morning. Angry takes too much time and it’s hard to carry that all the way through the week and have everybody around the house want to participate in being around you. So I think, for me, Phoenix is a great example. … I think when you look back at the first race last year and you have a chance to win the race and have the best car and then you go back to the second race and things don’t go your way just because it’s not what you expected, that’s just part of what we do. … 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.”

Edited by Jeff Owens
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