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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Harvick Heads to Perfect Spot for Rebound

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After showing speed all year and posting three straight top-six finishes to complete 2016, Kevin Harvick hasn’t quite got off to the start this season he expected.

Harvick knew there’d be hiccups with Stewart-Haas Racing switching from Chevrolet to Ford, but the expected hiccups haven’t plagued the team as they’ve shown speed, with Kurt Busch winning the season-opening Daytona 500. Instead, it’s been other types of issues.

The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy Johns Ford started off the year by getting caught up in one of the big wrecks at Daytona en route to a 22nd place finish. He then led 292 of 325 laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway, winning both stages, before speeding on pit road late in the race. Restarting at the tail end of the field, he was only able to get back to ninth. This past weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he’d blow a tire in the first stage of the race, resulting in a 38th place finish.

Unfortunately, showing speed and coming up short is nothing new for the past series champion as he went through the same problems during last season. Constant pit road miscues resulted in finishes less than they ran, with Harvick stating he was disgusted with the team in July. Though while last year the blame could be spread around, it appears this year it’s on Harvick’s shoulders thus far.

Fortunately, we’re only three races into the season, so there’s plenty of time for Harvick to win a race and get himself into Chase contention, while banking race and stage wins for points in the playoffs. This weekend is one of those places where he could capitalize.

In the past 10 races at Phoenix International Raceway, no driver has scored as many points as Harvick – 400 compared to Brad Keselowski‘s second most at 350. He also boasts the best average finishes in those races – 2.7 – highlighted by six victories, including four in a row. There was a time through 2014 and 2015 where as soon as Phoenix came up for discussion, Harvick was the name mentioned as the race winner.

Across his entire career, he’s been able to perform well in the desert with eight wins, and 17 top-10s in 28 starts with an average finish of 10th.

There’s also an advantage for Harvick as he was one of the drivers to take part in the pre-season test at Phoenix this season. The test will prove beneficial for finding a handle on the car in practice, as he says it allowed them to “figure out exactly where we need to be, what we need to do, what we need to work on.”

“The main thing is that we now have a starting point to work from,” he added. “There’s not a lot of guessing anymore. We know what’s going on and where we are at and going around a racetrack is what we needed to be doing, so we know where to work from here.”

Some may question whether the success will come, though, expecting driveability to be different from one manufacturer to another, but Harvick says that hasn’t been thus far, but rather the balance being different.

“I think there is just not one reason for that, though,” he said. “I think that’s a bit of where we are right now. We have to look at it and say, ‘Is it the balance of the car? Is it the balance of the new aero package?’ But that doesn’t matter – you know what the problems are that you’re going to fight there. It’s irrelevant what it is really, at this point. We just have to address the handling and make it better at this point.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, well handling media relations for OSCAAR. Born in North York, Ontario, McCubbin currently lives in Bradford, Ontario and spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area where she enjoys taking photos and working on websites.