After Charlotte, Harvick realized "we can still win a championship"

Tony Stewart is convinced now that Kevin Harvick has earned the right to compete for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title, his chances at becoming a two-time series champion are pretty good.

After Charlotte, Harvick realized "we can still win a championship"
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford takes the checkered flag
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Race winner Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

Harvick passed leader Martin Truex Jr. with nine of 334 laps remaining in Sunday’s AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and held on for the victory and the berth in the Championship 4 at Homestead, Fla., in two weeks.

“At the beginning of the year your goal is always to get into the playoffs. We’re in Phase No. 2 of it now that we’re locked into Homestead,” Stewart told Motorsport.com. “Now, we just have to finish it off.

“After a day like today, I like our odds right now. We’ve always believed in Kevin and Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and the No. 4 team, but I saw something in them today that makes me think they are going to be really dangerous at Homestead.”

It wasn’t always that way this season, though.

In fact, as recently as three months ago, Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, and even Harvick himself didn’t think SHR could compete toe-to-toe with the Toyotas.

Not able to compete for wins

It wasn’t until this fall when Kurt Busch performed so well at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Harvick led the most laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway, that SHR officials believed they had found the speed to consistently compete for race wins.

“Three or four months ago the conversation really was, ‘How are we going to point our way through the playoffs?’ We didn't really feel like we were consistently in contention to win races, not leading laps,” Harvick said.

“When you don’t lead laps, you can’t win races and control things. You can luck into them every once in a while, but you can’t control things like (Truex) has done this year and (Kyle Busch).”

The difference was most apparent on 1.5-mile race tracks, which dominate the 36-race series schedule, and in particular, the playoffs. It’s also where Truex and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team have performed at their best this season, collecting six victories.

“As the playoffs have started, we started leading laps again at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. That's really been our focus,” Harvick said. “It has been our focus for the last four years because that's really the bread and butter of what we do.

“Three or four months ago it was, ‘How are we not going to make any mistakes, be thorough, and capitalize on everybody else's mistakes?’ When we got done with Charlotte, it was, ‘Okay, we can still win a championship.’ ”

Bridging the gap

After Sunday, that is now a very real possibility.

Harvick, Truex and Busch will be three of the four drivers who will battle for the championship at Homestead. The fourth will be decided next week at Phoenix.

Coincidently, those three drivers were also among the four who competed for the title just two years ago in 2015, when Busch won his first series championship.

Greg Zipadelli, SHR’s vice president of competition, said getting the No. 4 team into the position it is to compete for the championship – and the improvement in general throughout SHR – has been a slow, methodical process this season.

“I feel like we’ve been at a disadvantage all year and we have been slowly gaining on it. We have speed when the cars come off the trucks, you see Clint (Bowyer) running better,” he said. “The motor shop has done an amazing job.

“This has been a hard year, a frustrating year. I’m a realist. I know how hard it is to have success and I know it only takes a few little things not to reach it. It’s not easy making it to Homestead.

“The bottom line is we’re going and we’re not going there to finish second.”

 

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