Some things get better with age. At 42, Kevin Harvick had the best season of his career last year. He posted career bests in wins (eight), top 5s (23, tied with 2015) and top 10s (29). The only thing missing was the Cup championship, as Harvick came up short at Homestead after an ill-timed late caution changed the complexion of the race in Joey Logano’s favor.
Still, Harvick’s season was stellar. His eight wins tied him with Kyle Busch for most in the Cup series, and he led the series in top 5s, top 10s and laps led (1,990). There’s no indication that Harvick plans to slow down anytime soon.
Stewart-Haas Racing and Harvick have elevated each other since Harvick joined the organization in 2014 and promptly won the Cup title. Harvick was a perennial winner and title contender previously at Richard Childress Racing, but the move to SHR gave him the extra edge he needed. In five years with SHR, Harvick has finished lower than third in points just once, and nearly half (22) of his 45 career wins have come in that span. SHR took a really good driver and made him a great one, a Hall of Fame lock.
And Harvick has returned the favor, leading the organization’s expansion from two to four cars and taking the reins as senior driver seamlessly after owner Tony Stewart retired from the driver’s seat. Last season saw all four SHR teams make the playoffs; Stewart’s faith in his longtime friend has proved to be more than justified.
Crew chief Rodney Childers has also been an integral part of the equation for Harvick. Childers listens to Harvick’s feedback. That seems simple, but it’s not something Harvick had at times early in his career, and that communication has only made Harvick more effective behind the wheel. Harvick is also known for his volatility, and Childers handles him well.
The third piece in the puzzle is Ford, which has redoubled its NASCAR efforts in recent years, and the support it offers its teams is second to none. When SHR switched from Chevrolet to Ford a couple years ago, many questioned the move as Ford had dropped behind Chevy and Toyota. Nobody is questioning it now. Harvick gets plenty of horsepower from Roush Yates Engines as well, and the team has solid backing from Anheuser-Busch and Jimmy John’s. All those pieces are firmly in place.
There were a couple of obstacles for Harvick last season, including some mistakes on pit road. Harvick was able to make up for most of them on the track, but eliminating them will only make this year go more smoothly.
Another obstacle: a pair of major rules infractions, although they ultimately didn’t hurt Harvick’s title chances as he overcame both to advance to the championship race. Whether the second infraction, which came after his win at Texas two weeks before the finale, hurt morale or momentum is still up for debate. The team may be subject to a little extra scrutiny from NASCAR this season as well after a faulty spoiler suspended Childers for the final two races and nearly spoiled the title bid. It can be hard to shake a reputation as a rule-bender after a moment like that, which can take a toll on a team’s confidence.
Harvick enters 2019 as a title favorite, and there is no reason to believe he can’t win a second Cup trophy to add to his collection. Time won’t stay on his side forever, but Harvick is 43 years old — the same age Dale Earnhardt won his last Cup title. He’s had success in a higher downforce car in the past, making the new rules a bit easier to conquer. There doesn’t appear to be a lot standing between Harvick and another title run.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 9/2 (per Sportsbook.ag)