In a sport that is based so much on numbers such as elapsed time, speed and more, Kevin Harvick is becoming a walking, talking advertisement for the science of numerology.
Think about it: not only does Harvick drive the No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford Mustang, he now has three fourth-place finishes in the first five races of the 2019 NASCAR Cup season.
Harvick had to work at it in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. He didn’t have the best or fastest car in the field, but constant adjustments by his team on pit road throughout the race kept improving the car, leading to its ultimate fourth-place showing.
“My guys did a great job,” Harvick said. “We didn’t have much that we thought was going well this weekend, but they made the car better and did a great job of keeping us in the game. It raced well and we had a great day on pit road. We overachieved today and I am really proud of everyone on the team for that.”
Harvick acknowledged he didn’t have much late in the race for eventual winner Kyle Busch, runner-up Joey Logano and third-place finisher Brad Keselowski, which is why he was so happy to put forth yet another fourth.
“I didn’t have anything for the Penske cars or the 18 car (Busch),” Harvick said. “They did a great job of racing hard all day and we made a lot out of the West Coast Swing with not very much. We have some work to do but we know you still have to go race. Our Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang was okay today and we got a decent finish.”
Harvick has earned fourth-place finishes at Atlanta, Las Vegas and now Fontana, sandwiched around a ninth-place showing at Phoenix, falling back from a potential top-five finish in the closing laps.
While he’d obviously love to reach victory lane, his fourth-place finishes have helped to keep him right in the middle of the points standings, leaving Fontana in third-place in the rankings, 24 points behind points leader Busch.
“We have done that four weeks in a row but when you come to this West Coast swing you have what you have and we left here with four top-10’s and three top-fives over the first five races.
“I am proud of everybody for that. It isn’t always going to be good. You have to try to figure out how to do things better when they aren’t going very good and our guys have done that.”
Like him or hate him, to win 200 races in anything is impressive, but to do it in @NASCAR in today’s day in time is insane. Even though we haven’t always seen eye to eye on the track, I still have a ton of respect for the talent @kylebusch has. Congrats!
Kyle's 200 wins over 3 series is his highway to the Hall of Fame. Stop comparisons to RP. Different era, circumstances, even the fact RP won in 1 series not 3. Each driver has a place in NASCAR history and in the end, that is all that really matters. #nascar
It was Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski who – barring a caution over the final 30 laps – stood as the last obstacle between Busch and Victory Lane.
But Busch took advantage of them aggressively fighting for the lead to take it himself on Lap 175.
He never looked back.
“We were racing hard and no matter who got to the lead, the 18 (Busch) was going to pass us,” Logano said. “He was the best car today. We have some work to do to get faster but the team did a great job today. We held strong today with the Auto Club Ford Mustang. You want to win at the home track of your sponsor. We gave it a solid run. I hate being that close.”
In the end, Logano and Keselowski finished second and third respectively. Ryan Blaney wound up fifth to put all of Penske’s Fords in the top five for the first time this season. They last accomplished the feat in the 2018 playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Penske has had at least one car in the top five in all five races this season, with Logano and Keselowski tied with three top fives apiece.
On Sunday, Logano placed in the top five in every stage while Keselowski finished second in Stage 2 and led 42 laps, second only to Busch.
“We were really good and got to the lead there on that last run, but I just couldn’t quite keep it there,” Keselowski said. “It was a good effort by the team, and we were right there in position, and we gave it all we had.”
Blaney has two consecutive top fives after his third-place finish in Phoenix. That’s after he started the year failing to finish better than 22nd in the first three races.
“We just weren’t very good the first run, but we got a lot better,” Blaney said. “We had a lap-and-a-half on our tires when the caution came out (on Lap 165). I thought if I could control the race from the front row and be the leader that I might be able to hold on because I thought our car was pretty good at the time.
“I was fourth by the time we got to Turn 1. I got no push. It took 10 laps for it to come in, and we were eighth and drove back to fifth. We had a really fast PPG Ford Mustang, we just never got the lead or track position with equal tires and that hurt us, but overall not a bad day.”
With eight combined top fives through five races, Team Penske heads to Martinsville Speedway, where the team has had success in recent years.
Logano won there last October in a dramatic duel with Martin Truex Jr. Keselowski took the win in the March 2017 race.
Each Penske driver claimed a top five at the 0.526-mile track last year.
Here’s what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, highlighted by Kyle Busch’s historic 200th career NASCAR win:
KYLE BUSCH — WINNER: “Feels just like number one. Feels just like yesterday. Man, that was such an awesome racecar. I mean, dang. This Interstate Batteries Camry was awesome today. I’m glad we put on a heck of a show for all these fans out here in California at Auto Club Speedway. It takes green to get in Victory Lane today. Today is St. Patty’s day. All these other guys were at a disadvantage. The Interstate Batteries Green Machine was flying today. Just awesome. Just awesome. To win 200, I mean, whatever it means, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to all my guys, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. You guys are all the best. Toyota, TRD. It’s an amazing opportunity to drive for Joe Gibbs. I cherish every minute of it, love it always. Just wish that we could keep it going, keep it going like this, running strong, running well, and winning these races. … (His goal when he decided to become a NASCAR driver) I think the original goal was just to get to NASCAR and then once I got here, it was to win a race. Once it was winning a race then it was about trying to sustain and being able to be a winner here and to be a champion here. To have the opportunities to continue down the line to be able to be successful each and every year and we’ve been doing that. We’ve only won one title, but certainly I feel like I have the best team out there right now and we just have to be able to do it all year long.”
Joey Logano – finished second: “We were racing hard and no matter who got to the lead, the 18 was going to pass us. He was the best car today. We have some work to do to get faster but the team did a great job today. We held strong today with the Auto Club Ford Mustang. You want to win at the home track of your sponsor. We gave it a solid run. I hate being that close. The last few laps you are running up against the wall and he had a big enough lead to kind of cruise a little and you are just hoping a lap car gets in the way or something. It was solid. We have a lot of momentum on this race team right now.”
Brad Keselowski – finished third: “We were really good and got to the lead there on that last run but I just couldn’t quite keep it there. It was a good effort by the team and we were right there in position and we gave it all we had. … (On Kyle Busch’s win) It is really fast through the corners and that is always good. That is really important and he had that today. I gave all I had for him. I got in front of him and tried my best to hold him off, we just fell off too much.”
Kevin Harvick – finished fourth: “We raced well today. My guys did a great job on pit road. Our car was better than it was in practice. I didn’t have anything for the Penske cars or the 18 car. They did a great job of racing hard all day and we made a lot out of the west coast swing with not very much. We have some work to do but we know you still have to go race. Our Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang was okay today and we got a decent finish. My guys did a great job. We didn’t have much that we thought was going well this weekend but they made the car better and did a great job of keeping us in the game. It raced well and we had a great day on pit road. We overachieved today and I am really proud of everyone on the team for that. We have done that four weeks in a row but when you come to this west coast swing you have what you have and we left here with four top-10’s and three top-fives over the first five races. I am proud of everybody for that. It isn’t always going to be good. You have to try to figure out how to do things better when they aren’t going very good and our guys have done that.”
Ryan Blaney – finished fifth: “We ran pretty decent all day. We just weren’t very good the first run but we got a lot better. We had a lap and a half on our tires when the caution came out. I thought if I could control the race from the front row and be the leader that I might be able to hold on because I thought our car was pretty good at the time. I was fourth by the time we got to turn one. I got no push. It took 10 laps for it to come in and we were eighth and drove back to fifth. We had a really fast PPG Ford Mustang, we just never got the lead or track position with equal tires and that hurt us but overall not a bad day.”
KURT BUSCH – finished sixth: “We had a good day. I was just hoping to get a top 5 and came home just a bit short. But the growth rate of us at Ganassi and the adjustments we’re making, I couldn’t be happier. I’m smiling as I’m driving the car. It’s so much fun to toss it down in there with all this downforce and the horsepower, you just pitch it sideways and see if it’s going to stick. But, we know we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s awesome to run up front. I’m smiling. But, we know at our growth rate, we’re not on a plateau yet. I’ve got to keep going. … (On brother Kyle’s 200th career win) This is a big day. For my little brother to have 200 wins, they’re all added up through his hard work and his dedication to perfection. Not bat for two kids with an attitude from Vegas.”
Aric Almirola – finished ninth: “I thought that was very typical California. The restarts were wild and crazy like we always see here and track position was king. We got strung out and fought track position a lot today. The cars are very difficult to drive in the wake of air of the cars in front of you. It is very challenging. The restarts are definitely exciting. The fans get their money worth for a few laps at least. All in all it was a great day for our Farmer John Ford Mustang. We got to lead some laps in the beginning. We just never made the right adjustments. We were a tick off all day. We had a top-six car and lost some track position and that is all we could do to muster you a ninth place finish.”
Austin Dillon – finished 10th: “We had a really fast Dow Chevrolet this weekend and we have shown speed all year. We earned the pole award and ran well within the top-five until the end of Stage 1. I could feel the right-rear tire going down and brushed the outside wall. The No. 3 team did a great job keeping me on the lead lap during multiple pit stops for repairs. The Dow Chevrolet remained fast. It was just an uphill battle to reclaim track position. Through hard work, we were able to finish 10th. I’m so proud of this team.”
Daniel Suarez — finished 13th: “We had another good Haas Automation Mustang this weekend. We have a few things we have to clean up as a team with pit road, etc., but we had a good car. We had a top-10 car and we showed that at some points, but we’re still learning each other and we’ll get better and better the longer we work with each other.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 14th: “We started the race really good. The later in the race, our Fastenal Ford just got too tight. We gambled there early on but spun out on the restart which set us back all race. We kept fighting and restarted sixth for the final 31 laps but just couldn’t hold on. It was still a decent finish for us overall in the big picture.”
Ryan Newman — finished 22nd: We just struggled with the handling all day and once we fell a lap off the pace it was hard to make up ground. Our team worked hard all weekend and we showed some good speed, so we’ll take that as a positive and move on to Martinsville next week.”
Ty Dillon — finished 27th: “We had a really great GEICO Camaro ZL1 at the start of this race. It was handling the best it had all weekend. My guys had found something that was going to work and keep our good finishes going, but the flat tire under green at the end of Stage 1 really hurt us. We had strategy plans to get our laps back if we could ever catch the cautions that we needed, but those just didn’t happen. It’s unfortunate that a tire ruined our day, but that’s not going to get this team down. We are going to keep grinding and working hard to be ready for Martinsville next weekend.”
Daniel Hemric – finished 33rd:“I hate it for everyone on this No. 8 Liberty National Life Insurance Chevrolet team. We had a strong run going and had worked from the 17th spot to racing inside the top 10 by the end of Stage 1. I was racing in heavy traffic once we went back green, and the air just sucked me up the track and I made contact with the outside wall exiting Turn 4. That damage cut the right rear tire and we had to pit under green to repair the damage. Unfortunately, we had another flat right rear, which caused even more damage. Nobody on this team gave up and I am proud of them for doing all they could to repair the damage. The car still had speed, but without the help of many cautions, we never really had the chance to get those laps back and then we had a flat left front in the closing laps, which hurt us even more.”
Clint Bowyer — finished 38th: “I felt like we had the car dialed in today better than we had all weekend, and we were looking pretty good early. But she started vibrating and you could smell something, so we were probably on borrowed time. I’m disappointed for the Rush and Haas folks who came out today hoping to see us run up front.”