HOMESTEAD, Fla – Kevin Harvick entered the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season among the favorites to hoist the championship trophy in the season ending race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Fast forward nine months – we were right.
Harvick, heads to the Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) back into the final round in NASCAR’s premiere series for the fifth time in six years. But, unlike the previous five times he’s made it here, this one was different.
See, Harvick’s path to Homestead in the past was simple. In 2014, it only took him two races to become playoff eligible. In 2015, three races. In 2016, it was just four races. In 2018, he won in just the second race. In 2017 though, he didn’t win until Sonoma – 16 races into the season. Other than winless seasons in 2004, 2008 and 2009, Harvick had never gone that late into a year without reaching victory lane.
Still, in the playoffs, he had always been strong and almost every year marched easily into the Championship 4. This year, well it was different.
It took Harvick 21 races to find victory lane this season. That was in late July at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. His car through the first 20 races run wasn’t up to par than everyone else’s.
He had only scored five top five finishes heading into New Hampshire, none of which being better than fourth. He also only had 11 top 10’s. By comparison, in 2018, he had five wins by that point to go along with 14 top five finishes and 15 top 10’s.
So, forgive Harvick for doubts settling in.
Oh, yeah, a lot of doubts,” Harvick said on Thursday from Media Day. “I think as we started the season the results weren’t bad, we had mediocre results, I think for what we expect as the No. 4 team. So, but it’s been a grind and a battle week-in and week-out as to what do we need, what do we need to do different, because the thought process is just so much different than what we have ever done before.”
Harvick, credits that eye opening start to the season though as to why they’re in this point today. While it’s been draining to get this ship turned around, it paid off and that’s a testament to the people and group around this team. They didn’t stop until they figured out where they were lacking in speed.
Once they found it, they took off.
“I think as an organization we have had to struggle through that and it’s been a grind,” Harvick continued. “So I wouldn’t, I would be lying to you if I told you it wasn’t taxing on everybody in order, in the amount of work that has been put in to get to this point. But that’s the good part about working at Stewart-Haas is you have a group of racers and that’s what they want to do, they want to be competitive and they’re not satisfied with finishing 4th like we did I think five or so races in the first seven or eight. So we want to, we have to, you have to believe able to lead laps. You have to be able to lead laps and you have to get Top 5s in order to have a chance at winning races.
“And we just, we just weren’t at that point in the first half of the year and I feel like we have still been sporadic in the style of racetrack that we can lead laps on. I think Phoenix is obviously, you know, those types of racetracks have been our toughest for us in order to navigate and get what we think we need out of those particular weekends, but we have done a good job at being able to get our speed back on the mile-and-a-halfs and really — we made the Roval better from where we were last year and those were really what became the focus of the second half of the year were the Roval and getting our speed back on the mile-and-a-half racetracks to where you could lead laps.”
Harvick, went 0-for-20 to start 2019 off with but 3-for-7 after. He had six top seven finishes in the final seven races of the regular season.
In the playoffs, Harvick just kind of got by. He wasn’t dominant but he wasn’t bad. In the first two rounds, he had five top 10 finishes in six tries. In the third round, he capitalized on past speed at Texas and won the playoff race for the third consecutive year.
Now, he’s back to Homestead trying to win his 50th career Cup race to go along with his second championship.