Kevin Harvick: History is on his side
Photo by Nick Laham / NASCAR via Getty Images
Kevin Harvick leads a pack of cars at Pocono Raceway.
By Steven Ellis
June 14, 2015
Mr. Happy isn’t happy with his knack for second place results. And he’s surely not a second place driver.
And, if history holds up, good luck trying to overcome the power of Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Sprint Cup team.
Thanks to his runner-up finish at Pocono Raceway last Sunday, Harvick now has eight runner-up finishes this season after just 14 races. His two wins this season at Las Vegas and Phoenix tally his top-two finishes to ten, the most of any driver this season.
“I think everybody is probably frustrated that we didn't win, but I think it's frustrated in a good way,” Harvick said to our Justin Melillo last week on his second place finish at Pocono. “It's very rare that you can come to the racetrack and be in those positions every week.”
Very few drivers have ever had that strong of a start to a NASCAR season. Last year, when Harvick was able to secure his first NASCAR championship, Harvick was 12th in points by the 14th race of the year as opposed to first place at the same point this year.
To think that Harvick is this dangerous a year after winning the Sprint Cup is just crazy. Oh, and did we forget to mention that he’s finished second place four years in a row at Michigan?
Yeah, its nuts.
So how does Harvick compare to the all-time best starts in NASCAR history?
Only one driver in the history of NASCAR’s top division has been able to match that same feat. Back in 1972, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison was able to pull off that same exact stat, with his second place finish to David Pearson at Michigan giving him the modern day record at the time. Two other drivers have been able to record nine top-two finishes in the first 14 races, with Richard Petty (1971) and Cale Yarborough (1974 and 1977) coming just one race shy of also tying the record.
Photo by Benjamin Palmer / TheRacingExperts.com
Kevin Harvick celebrates his second victory of 2015 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Allison will also be known as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport. The Miami, Florida native was able to record 84 victories during his Winston Cup, now Sprint Cup, career, and would go on to win the 1983 series championship.
But wait a second. He didn’t win it in 1972, putting up ten wins and finishing with an average finish of 5.3. Richard Petty had something to say that.
A year before his championship in 1972, Petty had his own remarkable start to the season. In fact, in his first 14 races that year, eight of his nine top two’s were victories, helping him eventually win the championship after a 21 win season in 1971.
Then there’s Yarborough. After losing the 1974 title fight to Petty (despite winning 10 races), the Hall of Famer would eventually take the 1977 championship, proving
Of the four previously mentioned cases, all three of the drivers were able to finish in—you guessed it—the top two spots in the standings. So if the trend is to continue for Harvick, things should work out in his favor, right?
Well, welcome to 2015. NASCAR has changed a lot since the 1970s, back when you’d see huge car counts and nearly 50 races a year. The other drivers did it without the current point system, where a win in the final race will automatically earn you a spot in the championship round as long as you were in the top four heading into Homestead. Now, it’s more about winning when it counts the most, and because of that, it really doesn’t matter if he wins the next five races or not. If he can’t come up big when it counts the most, it’s all forgotten about once the season is over.
But if you want to take last year into consideration, you have to think that Harvick is going to have a really strong remainder of the season. Yes, the series is as completive as it’s ever been. Through 14 races, we already have ten drivers locked into the Chase with wins this season.
But when you look at how strong Harvick has been the past two years, there is no question that he’s an elite driver with the skills to turn out a few more championships over the next few years. At 39, he’s in the prime of his career, and there is no chance of him slowing down in the coming seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing.
When taking a look at the past five seasons, Harvick tends to find himself close to fifth place in the standings after 14 races, with a 12th place spot during his title run last year and a first place effort in 2010 being the two outliers. In 2010, he managed to finish third in the final standings, losing out to the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
This time, both those drivers, especially Johnson, will have an impact when the championship is on the line in November. The difference now, however, is what it takes to win the championship. Any driver in the Chase can find a few lucky breaks along the way and avoid elimination early on. With the wildcards of Talladega and Martinsville taking place down the stretch, both places where Harvick tends to excel at, it can be anyone’s game.
A year ago, Harvick won after one of the most inconsistent starts we’ve seen from an eventual champion. With Harvick’s team basically being a new addition to the Stewart-Haas stable, the team had to work quickly to get things up to speed right away. After a bunch of failures and near-misses to start the season, Harvick was easily the strongest force throughout the ten-race playoff to decide the champion.
This year, the team is at full force and with the ultimate victory already under the wing. If history repeats itself, he’ll be one of the final four participants battling for the trophy at the end of the year. With the way things are rolling, it would be unwise to bet against what Kevin Harvick is doing right now.