Kevin Harvick Readies for Title Defense at Homestead

Just over a year later, 39-year-old Kevin Harvick looks to extend his reign as defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion with this year’s title in today’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  It seems a bit of a blur for the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy Johns Chevy team from the Stewart-Haas Racing campus but to say the least, he’s had a season that screams consistency and instills a bit of fear with his title rivals.

Tallying three wins (Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Dover), 22 top-fives and 29 top-10s this year, the Bakersfield, CA native has been making a great case with becoming the 11th driver to win multiple championships in this division.

While Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers are in the midst of their second full-time effort together, they’ve certainly become that driver-crew chief combination that’s in the same league as Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus, Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe, and Joey Logano and Todd Gordon.

Unlike last year, this team seems more poised and confident as they’ve been through this particular Chase playoff format.  They’ve overcome the “win and you’re in” situations and yes, they’ve been able to put the Talladega debacle behind them.

Not a whole lot derails the No. 4 team from going after the biggest prize in stock car racing quite honestly.  After all, they overcame a crash related 42nd place result at Chicagoland to open the Chase and a 21st at Loudon as a result of a fuel gamble that went wrong.

Their October 4th win at Dover has been their catalyst in the Chase as they’ve scored finishes of 2nd at Charlotte, 16th at Kansas, 15th at Talladega, eighth at Martinsville, third at Texas, and second at Phoenix.

Those results alone play a huge part with the confidence that Harvick has in his team and his chances to win it again.

Harvick has to be the definite odds on favorite for the title.

Harvick has to be the definite odds on favorite for the title.

I can see it in my guys eyes, they’re much more relaxed than they were last year, and I know Rodney will tell you the same thing,” Harvick said.  “It’s a much calmer — still confident atmosphere, but I still to this day don’t believe that after practice — we qualified okay, and even in the race, I don’t believe we had the fastest car by any means.  The circumstances definitely came down to a pit call and things at the end, but we had some work to do on the performance of the car and came down here and tested and tweaked on it some more coming down this time.”

While title rival and contender Jeff Gordon pointed out how he, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex are the sentimental favorites, he essentially remarked that the championship favorite has to be Harvick.  From their fast cars to their stellar pit stops that’d make even Rusty Wallace’s 1990s pit crew jealous, it’s safe to say that if there had to be that one driver who wouldn’t be a total surprise to hoist the Cup trophy, it’s that cunning but smart, calculative racer who finally scored his first title in his 14th full-time campaign last year.

Harvick may not have an absolutely fast car for this weekend but he realizes that pit strategy in the late stages of today’s race could be a factor for deciding this year’s champion.  With that in mind, he sang his praises for his crew chief and his hardy No. 4 team.

I think that the confidence between myself and Rodney is obviously pretty high.  I believe in what he does.  I believe in what our team does.  You know, and I think that in the car they believe in what I do.  It’s like I said earlier, the chemistry in this team is special.  I’m glad to be a part of it and looking forward to just another challenge to face this weekend just like the last two years have come. 

We’ve had a lot of things thrown at us over the last two years.  We’ve had a lot of things thrown at us through the Chase, and I just believe that every step of the way that’s just another character-building moment that’s made us stronger.”

The first two races of this Chase could’ve been the nail in the coffin for Harvick and company.  After all, they essentially had to win at Dover or face the realities of just going for the consolation prize for the remaining seven races with a fifth place points finish.

Defeat and concession are not words in Harvick’s vocabulary.  This is a man who will dig deep and fight hard until the bitter end to make his way into the biggest moments for his season and his team.

Dover was perhaps the finest example of that resiliency as they not only won and earned their second round berth into the Contender Round of 12, but the 355 laps led in that 400-lap race served notice that this is a team that will dominate on the asphalt arena.

Speaking of serving notice, what’s Harvick’s thoughts on his competitors labeling him as the favorite for not only the race but for the title?

Kevin Harvick isn't here for mind games - he's here for his second title.

Kevin Harvick isn’t here for mind games – he’s here for his second title.

“Well, I think that as the last two years have gone, there’s definitely been a lot of scenarios that Rodney and our team have had to deal with with those types of comments and things.  It makes you feel good about the way that the team has run and the things that we have done.

We’re a confident group amongst ourselves, but you also have to be respectful because you definitely don’t want to get run over by the karma train by spouting too many things off.  It’s definitely — it’s flattering, but in the end, it’s still got to run the race, and there’s other teams that have run well, and I think as you look at the situation, obviously there’s a lot of things that we’ve been a part of and done well in the past, but now you’ve got to do them again.”

Much like The Beach Boys sang in 1969 in “Do It Again,” perhaps Harvick will accomplish a feat that his California comrades like Gordon and Jimmie Johnson accomplished respectively in 1998 and 2007-’10: defend the Cup.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it’s about anything with an engine and four wheels, you’ll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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