Kevin Harvick politely scoffs at the suggestion that his team is shouldering an undue amount of pressure while facing elimination from the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
When you step into the ride vacated by the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, it changes the perspective of pressure.
“As you look at the things that we have been through as a team over the past couple years, we have been in a lot of pretty intense situations, but for me personally, I think that these things are kind of a walk in the park compared to the Earnhardt situations of taking over his car and having to deal with that and all the things that we dealt with back in 2001,” Harvick said Thursday during a national media teleconference. “It kind of makes these scenarios a little bit easier to deal with because you’ve dealt with things that are on a much bigger scale than the current things of just performing on the racetrack.”
The performance expectations are high for Harvick in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. Ranked 15th and 23 points behind the 12th-place cut line for the first round of the playoffs, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver faces a virtual win-or-bust scenario to sustain his hopes of defending his series championship.
A victory automatically would advance his No. 4 Chevrolet to the second round, but Harvick hasn’t won in 29 starts at the 1-mile oval. He led 91 laps and finished second May 31 at Dover and led a race-high 223 laps at the track a year ago yet finished 13th because of a valve-stem problem.
It’s been a similar in the Chase for Harvick, who had strong cars in the first two races that were negated by a crash at Chicagoland Speedway and running out of fuel at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Harvick said he hasn’t followed up on with crew chief Rodney Childers about why his team’s mileage calculations missed the mark Sunday (“I try to stay out of those types of scenarios just because of the fact that I can just add more layers to the process.”), but he didn’t view it as an unnecessary risk, nor was the decision to avoid pitting despite having a tire rub just before the wreck at Chicagoland.
“I don’t look at either of those scenarios as risks,” he said. “Obviously, the tire rub is hard to see, and I think with the smoke going away and you obviously didn’t know it was as bad as it was. So it’s definitely something that you have to react pretty quickly on. I think last week nobody viewed as a risk, just for the fact that it shouldn’t have even been close with the pace that we had to run and the mileage that we had gathered from everything that we had in the pit box.”
With that in mind, Harvick said the team wouldn’t approach Dover any differently. Last year, he was in a similar situation (though not as deep in the points) entering the third-round finale at Phoenix International Raceway, where he won to advance to the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“As you look at the scenario, I think obviously, we have been in this position before,” Harvick said. “But in the end it doesn’t really change the approach at all.
“You have your competition meeting, you talk about next week and then you go about normal life throughout the week. So, it’s really no different, other than the circumstances with the points and the championship and everything that goes with it. But as far as an approach standpoint, we’ll do everything exactly the same.”
Though his points position is precarious, Harvick said he like being able to “swing for the fence and hope that you can make a spectacular moment.
“I like these types of situations,” he said. “I think they’re different and fun and it’s all in the approach and how you react to them.”