Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup Series race last week at Texas Motor Speedway, meaning he’s headed to the playoffs’ final four on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Martin Truex Jr. and two other drivers who will be determined Sunday at Phoenix.
It’s the fourth consecutive year Harvick — the 2014 Cup champ — has made it to the final four. In doing so, he tied Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart for 14th on NASCAR’s all-time list with his 49th career victory.
Harvick spoke with reporters after his victory at Texas:
Q. What does it mean to you to tie your boss Tony Stewart with 49 career victories?
“The only conversations that we talked about was we want to win races and have a chance to win championships. And really, to me, that’s the most rewarding thing is seeing the company continue to thrive and win races in different rules packages, big motors, tapered spacers, big spoilers, little spoilers, Fords, Chevrolets. Stewart-Haas Racing has been in Victory Lane, and we’ve been fortunate to win races with all those different scenarios. In the end, that comes down to people. You’re only as good as the people that you have around you.
“Them letting us go out and build a team with people that came to Stewart-Haas Racing to be on that No. 4 car is really what started this whole thing (in 2014). So it’s been a lot of fun. (Tony Stewart) is so laid back and understands how the peaks and valleys go of this particular sport. I’m glad he’s here on the night that we were able to both be 49s. I guess that’s pretty cool.”
Q. Is making the final four something you still get excited about, or have you come to expect it?
“Every year is different. For me, I would tell you that I just — I don’t think we’ve run as well as we’ve probably wanted to run week in and week out compared to the things that we expect. But this particular year has been neat for me to sit back and watch the evolution of how we progressed with the race cars, how the conversations have progressed, how my theories and things that I think are right and wrong have changed. It’s such a process of going to all these different racetracks.
“You know, there’s just a lot of choices of what you can do to the car and the things that you do, and not being the dominant car on the racetrack has made us work harder.
“It’s evolved into not making mistakes. It’s like (Sunday), where you have the pit road penalty, you put it behind you, and you’re like, OK, well, now what do we do. We went right out and had a bad restart and went further backwards, then you had the penalty and you go all the way to the back and then you change the tires, and you’re like, OK, well, that’s over. And you have to start thinking about how you’re going to get back to the front, and we stayed out longer and the caution came out and next thing you know you’re on the right side of the cycle.
“So those are the types of things that we’ve been reminded of this year, that you have to think about things outside of the box because the box changes a lot. The day that you stop thinking about how you’re going to evolve and get stuck in today and what you did yesterday is the day that this sport will leave you behind. You have to be very open-minded, and this is a progressive sport and you have to keep up with that progression on a weekly basis because it changes rapidly.”
Q. So what is your overall relationship with crew chief Rodney Childers and with the team?
“They expect me to come to the racetrack and be prepared. And the thing about being prepared for me is from a physical standpoint, a mental standpoint, to be as mentally focused as you can. And my age and experience kind of comes into that I guess you could say sometimes because you’ve been to some of these racetracks so many times, and I feel like I know the characteristics of the car.
“But there’s not a day that goes by that (Childers) doesn’t send me a text, ‘hey, we’re going to do this.’ Or one of the engineers will send me a text and say ‘what do you think about this gear ratio or what do you think about whatever?’ One of them is texting me at least once a day, if not multiple times a day, as to what’s going on and what’s happening.
“Those are those relationships that are constant and steady, and everybody believes in each other because that’s just how it works. It’s never a bad time to text me or it’s never a bad time to call me. It’s never a bad time to ask me to do something. It’s never a bad time — when they need something, I put down what I’m doing, and I go and I try to figure out how we’re going to do it.
“I am a thorough believer that that circle of life has to be balanced for you to show up to this racetrack every single week, to be as focused as you need to be to process all of that information and listen to those guys and listen to the things that you do and know that I’m just a piece of information that allows them to put the puzzle together. It’s a big puzzle. You throw all the pieces out on the table and those guys put the puzzle together.
Q. Denny Hamlin had trouble at Texas. He’s 20 points back outside the top four. What’s it like to have a (multi-win) season like he’s had and then be on the brink of not advancing?
“We’ve been in that scenario a couple times. But those guys are capable. I enjoy those types of situations because it brings out the focus in your whole team, and when you’ve had a season like they’ve had, they’ll be tough to beat next week when you go to Phoenix because they’re going to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ because they know that their season is on the line. So it’ll be fun to watch.
“(People) think it’s miserable to be in those situations, but really those are some of the best moments that you can ever have. The thrill of the anxiety and not knowing and just that preparation that comes with knowing that this is the day — if you’re going to be in it, this is the day that you have to put it all together, and it starts when you walk in the racetrack and you get in that car to go out, and it’s one lap at a time. And you know that that better be the best you can do on the first lap of practice, the best you can do on the second lap, and it better be a constant evolution as you go through that because there’s nothing — nothing — like succeeding in those particular moments and that thrill of all that preparation and that anxiety and all those emotions and everything hinges on that one moment.
“When you actually achieve conquering that moment, there’s nothing like it. That thrill is the best thrill that you can possibly get for me.”
This week’s NASCAR race at Phoenix: What you need to know.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations 500.
Distance: 312 laps, or 312 miles (500 kilometers).
Where: ISM Raceway, a 1-mile asphalt oval in Avondale, Ariz.
When: 2:30 p.m., Sunday.
Last year’s winner: Kyle Busch.
Also this week: Lucas Oil 150, Truck Series, ISM Raceway, Friday, 8:30 p.m., FS1; Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200, Xfinity Series, ISM Raceway, Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Saturday, NBC.
Worth mentioning: All three series are one week away from championship-deciding races at Homestead ... Christopher Bell is locked in for the Xfinity Series; This the second of the three-race Cup Series playoffs ... Christopher Bell has clinched a spot in the Xfinity final four and has an 11-point lead over Cole Custer in the Xfinity standings, with Tyler Reddick and Justin Allgaier also in the top four ... Nobody has clinched yet in the Truck Series, with Brett Moffitt, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain and Austin Hill in the top four.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
Kevin Harvick: Back in the final four, ready to go for another title.
Roger Penske: Legandary team owner is now a track owner (Indianapolis Motor Speedway).
Denny Hamlin: Another poor finish (28th) leaves him 20 points out of fourth.
Chase Elliott: Forgettable third-round so far (36th at Martinsville, 32nd at Texas) means he’s out of it.