Kevin Harvick has been called a lot of things in his career: Happy, The Closer, Champion. But a nickname he might not welcome (even less than he welcomes the colorful monikers) is Senior. No, he’s not ready for an AARP membership just yet, but at 41, Harvick, once one of the most talked about young guns in the Cup circuit, was the second-oldest driver in the playoffs last year, younger than only Jimmie Johnson.
Harvick, however, shows no signs of slowing down. He hasn’t gone a season without a win since 2009 and hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in points since that same season. The 2014 champion turned in a third-place showing in the title battle last year for Stewart-Haas Racing, the top showing for Ford in the team’s first year with the manufacturer. Though he won just twice, his lowest season total since 2012, his 23 top 10s were second best in the series, behind only Martin Truex Jr., and only Truex had a better season average finish than Harvick’s 11.1.
Harvick played the new stage strategy fairly well with six stage wins, though his 15 playoff points were the lowest total among the top four; he’ll need to up his game this year, though, as teams now have a full understanding of how crucial stage wins and playoff points are. Harvick has proven fairly adaptable throughout his career, so expect to see him take it all in stride.
Rodney Childers will call the shots for Harvick again this year. They’ve been a formidable combination since coming together at SHR in 2014; they immediately won a title and have 14 wins as a pair over the last four seasons. Harvick can be volatile, but Childers doesn’t let communication break down the way his predecessors might have. Childers also listens to Harvick’s feedback, something else the driver didn’t always get earlier in his career despite his success.
Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled a bit in the sponsorship department, but Harvick’s team is fairly stable financially with backing from Busch beer and Jimmy John’s along with the occasional appearance by Mobil 1. The organization adds a veteran driver in Aric Almirola and stable sponsorship money for the No. 10 from Smithfield, and that’s good for everyone involved, including Harvick, who’ll benefit from Almirola’s input.
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That’s not to say that there isn’t work to do. Despite Harvick’s success, it’s hard to ignore the dominance of Toyota and its flagship teams last year. The Fords were close, but it’s easy to wonder if the gap between manufacturers made the difference in the title at the end. There is work to be done, but if the cars are competitive, a driver of Harvick’s caliber can make up the difference.
SHR also has the benefit of Roush Yates engines under the hood. None of Harvick’s four DNF’s last year came from engine failure, and that means that every race was in the hands of the team and driver.
The one thing working against Harvick is time. He is already among the top 10 oldest drivers to win a title for his 2014 run at age 38. He’ll be 42 when 2018 opens, and just five drivers have won a title that age or older. While he doesn’t need another title to cement his future Hall of Fame inclusion, he’s as relentless as ever in pursuing one, and, more important, he hasn’t shown any real drop-off in performance.
But it may be the performance of both Toyota and Chevy (which has a new car in 2018) that could derail his bid for a second title. Ford feels like a third wheel by comparison as SHR still adjusts to their equipment. But if Harvick can still squeak through to Homestead? Don’t count him out. After all, they don’t call him The Closer for nothing.