A year ago, Kevin Harvick went to New Hampshire Motor Speedway and won his sixth NASCAR Cup Series race of the season. That was the most he’d ever won in a single season; he went on to win twice more before the end of 2018.
A year later, Harvick makes his return to New Hampshire — only this time, he’s winless.
Wait — huh?
Incredibly, on the heels of arguably his best professional season, Harvick still hasn’t won a Cup race in 2019. In fact, none of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammates has either. In the span of a year, SHR went from being one of NASCAR’s more complete teams to playoff afterthoughts. Only Harvick ranks in the Top 5, and both Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez are fighting for their playoff lives. The team has never gone this long into a season without a win.
But this all comes back to Harvick, the torchbearer for Stewart-Haas. He’s still won four stages this year and led almost 450 laps, so it’s not like this season has been a complete waste by any means. But compared to his usual standards...
Yeah, it’s definitely been disappointing.
It’s not as if Harvick has caught any terrible bad luck, either. There haven’t been any last-second bumps or blown engines —he hasn’t even finished in the Top 3 all year.
The question is, why? Why has Harvick seen such a steep dropoff — and is there a chance he recovers in time to make a playoff push?
First, as for what’s going on with Harvick and SHR, you can look at a number of problem areas. The one that stands out is this year’s aerodynamic package, aimed at slowing cars down to manufacture closer racing. That new rules package meant teams largely had to start from scratch in terms of tweaking their cars. Some — at Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing, for instance — adjusted quickly. Others did not, and still are working through those changes. Harvick even said recently that the team’s setups at the start of the year weren’t right for what was necessary.
And with three consecutive finishes outside the Top 10, those changes are still underway. Which leads to a more pressing question:
Where does Harvick go from here?
Currently third in the points standings, it’s not like he’s in danger of missing the playoffs. In fact, he should be able to coast through the first round barring any sort of catastrophe. But after that, as elimination margins get smaller and smaller, he’ll have to start challenging for race wins again.
If there’s any optimism to be had, let it be from Joey Logano last year. Logano was largely mediocre over the first half of the season before flipping a switch to end the regular season and go into the playoffs. From there, he started rolling off wins and parlayed that momentum into his first Cup championship.
Of course, Logano did have wins before he got into the playoffs, which is more than you can say about Harvick now.
Harvick is still the same caliber of driver he was last season. Now he’s got all the extra motivation he could ask for... not that he needed it.
But his lack of wins thus far in 2019 remains NASCAR’s greatest mystery, and with just a handful of races left until the playoffs begin, there might not be any easy solution for the No. 4 team.
This week’s NASCAR race at New Hampshire: What you need to know.
Race: NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301.
Distance: 301 laps, or 318.458 miles.
Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a 1.058-mile granite and asphalt oval in Loudon, N.H.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday.
Last year’s winner: Kevin Harvick.
Also this week: ROXOR 200, Xfinity Series, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 4:00 p.m., Saturday, NBCSN.
Worth mentioning: This is the only race of the season at New Hampshire, as Las Vegas assumed a second date instead.
Who’s Hot/Who’s Not
Kurt Busch: Not that he wasn’t going to make the playoffs on points anyway, but a win sets him in a different class of driver this season.
Erik Jones: A third-place finish at Kentucky means he sneaks back into the playoffs — for now.
Jimmie Johnson: It was the wrong time for Johnson to wreck, as he’s now just 10 points clear of missing the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Daniel Suarez: Finishing eighth would normally be something worth celebrating, but not when you start on the pole and desperately need a win to clinch a playoff berth.