There can be a tendency among some NASCAR pundits to dismiss a driver who has a bad race. As in stick a fork in him, he’s done. Or are ready to crown a champion before the coronation is still in the planning stages.
Take the case of Kevin Harvick. Last season many predicted him to go all the way and win his second Cup title.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, he failed to advance far enough into the playoffs and was not among the Final 4. Sure, he won seven races and the regular season championship, yet when it came time to put it all on the line, Harvick and his Stewart-Haas Racing team didn’t have what it took.
Show’s you how smart those NASCAR pundits can be sometimes.
Fast forward to the 2021 season. Harvick had decent finishes in the first three races with two top fives and a top 10, but at Vegas last week he wasn’t close to being in contention for the win despite starting on the pole. Harvick finished a very un-Harvick-like 20th one lap down.
According to Harvick there was no one thing that happened.
“We just missed it on all levels with all the different things that are going on from last year,” he said. “I think whether we over thought it or just missed it has yet to be seen, but we just missed it bad.”
He didn’t mince words when asked what it was like to race his No. 4 Mustang last Sunday.
“Not fun,” was how he summed up his day.
As for whether the team will need to make any drastic changes to the car moving forward, Harvick had little to offer.
“That would probably be a great question for Greg Zipadelli (competition director at SHR) because I don’t really have those exact answers as to exactly what they’re going to do,” Harvick said.
Harvick added that with the pandemic still affecting the races, the offseason was a bit different than last year. The first four races of 2020 came prior to COVID-19 shutting everything down. Racing, and everything else came to a halt and that actually gave teams an advantage.
“You had four races and then you had eight weeks to work on everything that you did in those four races to fix or fine-tune on the things that you had,” he said. “This year you’re kind of doing everything on the fly.”
According to Harvick part of the issues last Sunday come from the track itself.
“Vegas is a tough racetrack just because of the fact that it falls into a lot of different categories as far as ride quality, as far as aerodynamic balance,” he said. Do you want to work on the front of the car or the back of the car? Do you go to the wind tunnel and use up some of your wind tunnel time and how do you put that into your simulation? Where does that fall into the things that you did last year and how do you categorize all those things to put into perspective of what happened over the weekend?
“You have to look at the things that you did that led to this particular road. Is it your simulation? Is it the setups that your engineering group put into the race car? Did you do things right on the seven-post? Do you need to go to the wind tunnel?
There are just a lot of things that you have to try to tie all those pieces together, but Vegas in general it’s a real balance between all those things from a mechanical grip and aerodynamics and aerodynamic balance and bump stop loads and spring choices and all those things come into play at Vegas because it’s just a difficult racetrack to get all those things right.”
And for those ready to count him and the team out:
“We had a good first few races and Vegas we were off but three out of four have been just fine for us.”
While he might not know the answers as to what happened in Vegas, Harvick said he’s ready to help provide the information needed to figure it out.
“This is not an abnormal situation for any race team.,” he said. “You’re going to be in situations where you’re up, you’re down and that problem-solving is actually a piece of it that is always enjoyable.
“I wouldn’t characterize the weekend that we had as to how the first three weeks have gone for us on the 4 car, you’re going to have those particular weekends and you have to be a source of information.
“You’re not going to fix it. I have no chance of fixing it. I’m merely the source of information from what happens in the car. It’s way too technical. There’s way too many engineers involved, and you have to be confident in the things that you’re saying, feeling to deliver that information and then ask enough questions to make sure that the direction is in kind of the magnitude of your suggestions is put into the proper channels to make sure that it’s delivered in the appropriate way as an emergency or just an isolated problem or whatever the scenario is.”
As the series now heads to Phoenix, Harvick chuckled when asked if he felt he was “still a threat” to win there.
“That’s a silly question,” he said. “I think you should go back and look at the first race from last year that we led the most laps and had the fastest car. We wound up finishing second. I would consider us a challenger at just about any racetrack that you go to, but you’re not going to be that way all the time, so, I think as we go to Phoenix you expect to go there and perform well.”
Indeed, Havick is a master when it comes to Phoenix. He not only finished second there in the spring race last year but has a series high 9 wins. And it’s Phoenix that Harvick was already thinking about the day after that 20th place finish in Vegas.
“Most of my races are over by Monday, whether we’ve won or lost,” he said. “It’s really just whatever the challenge is for the next week and how do you recap the last week, so running first or running last is really no different for me on a Monday morning.”
Which is a big reason why Harvick isn’t angry after a bad finish and certainly doesn’t allow a bad finish to carry over into the next race.
“Angry takes too much time and it’s hard to carry that all the way through the week and have everybody around the house want to participate in being around you, so I think for me Phoenix is a great example.
“I think when you look back at the first race last year and you have a chance to win the race and have the best car and then you go back to the second race and things don’t go your way just because it’s not what you expected, that’s just part of what we do.”
As for those who might be ready to count Harvick out as a contender the rest of the season.
“You guys sometimes see the results and look at it and say, ‘He’s going to be this or that,’ and, really, it’s just the same.,” he said. ”It’s really no different as you get into the meetings on Monday. The conversations may be different, but it’s the same routine week after week for me.”