CONCORD, N.C. — A year can make a huge difference. Just ask Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick.
At this time last year Harvick was driving the No. 29 Chevrolet SS for Richard Childress Racing, the only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team of his career. He drove his Budweiser-sponsored entry to victory lane in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but it wasn’t long before things began changing.
Harvick agreed to a contract with Stewart-Haas Racing, opening the seat that eventually went to Austin Dillon at RCR. Harvick got off to a fast start at Stewart-Haas this year, winning the second race of the season at Phoenix Int’l Raceway.
“I didn’t change teams to get worse,” Harvick said. “I went in with the intentions of being competitive. You never really know how it’s going to go. You put everything together with the intentions of trying to improve upon your situation in the past.”
Besides the victory at PIR and a second triumph at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in April, Harvick hasn’t had a lot to smile about. He has four finishes outside the top 35 and only three top-five finishes in 11 starts.
“Everybody is doing a good job working through everything that we’ve been through at the start of the year,” Harvick said. “We’ve had a lot of good and some bad.”
Harvick returns to CMS to defend his Coca-Cola 600 victory from last season ranked 15th in the championship standings, but he is all but assured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup based on his two victories. With that said, the focus for Harvick is to visit victory lane as often as possible between now and the start of the Chase.
“With the way the points and everything work this year, having a couple wins already takes the pressure off and keeps everybody pushing towards trying to win every week,” Harvick said. “The only way points matter is if you don’t have a win.”
Despite having a pair of Coca-Cola 600 trophies, Harvick has never dominated NASCAR’s longest race. In his victory last season he only led 28 laps. In his other victory, which came in 2011, he led just two circuits of the 1.5-mile speedway.
Ironically, Harvick once hated racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway. With two victories in the Coca-Cola 600 under his belt, his opinion has changed slightly.
“First half of my career has been like a 180 from where it has been the second half of my career,” Harvick said. “It has been a lot of fun over the last several years to come here and race and win races and be competitive.”
Harvick believes the team has worked out a lot of the bugs and gremlins it faced early in the season and they are now ready to race for a championship later this year.
“Every week it’s a constant evaluation of parts, people, places, situations,” Harvick said. “We’ve been fortunate to have fast cars pretty much every week.
“It has gone really well so far, we’ve just got to keep chipping away week after week just fixing little things here and there.”