Driver of the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing
Another year, another appearance in the Championship 4. For Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, it’s been a near-perfect run, as he’s missed being in the top 4 just once since the current format was introduced. He’s finished third in the final tally in each of the last three years. He’s a sure thing for SHR.
The organization may not have had the same success last year that it enjoyed in 2018, but for Harvick, it was business as usual, as he won four races, including the regular-season finale at Indianapolis and the playoff event at Texas Motor Speedway. He also sat on six poles and averaged a 10th-place finish on the year.
And he’s been that reliable since joining SHR in 2014, when he repaid the team’s faith in him by winning that year’s Cup Series title. In that span, he’s never produced fewer than two wins in a season. His 26 wins with SHR are more than half of his career win total of 49.
Harvick’s not-so-secret weapon has been his ability to get more out of a racecar than the car seems capable of giving. His performance at Richard Childress Racing in the first half of his career hasn’t come close to being replicated by any of the drivers who drove at RCR with or after him, and he was the only driver to pull a win out of the SHR hat last year as well, though the SHR cars aren’t off the mark in the way the RCR equipment has seemed to be.
Harvick’s timing in the Cup Series has been a little unfortunate. For much of it, he (along with everyone else in the series) was overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson’s decade-long reign of terror, and more recently, by the next wave of young drivers.
There are no changes expected at the forefront of Harvick’s No. 4 team. He and crew chief Rodney Childers have been as formidable a pair as any in the series over the last five years. Childers handles the often-volatile Harvick well.
Sponsorship, led by Anheuser-Busch but backed up by a solid group of others including Mobil 1 and Jimmy John’s, also appears to be largely unchanged this year. Harvick will have a new teammate in Cole Custer, but veterans Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola will be back, giving Custer a powerful trio of veterans to lean on while they are able to build on their portfolio of information.
The Mustang is also a year into its tenure, along with the NASCAR rules package, and that means established teams such as Harvick’s have a foundation to build on this year rather than a from-scratch learning curve. NASCAR has hinted at changes for the short tracks, but even that could play into Harvick’s hands, as he’s had past success there. And if some tweaks mean a closer field, he could capitalize as NASCAR’s fastest driver statistically on restarts.
So where’s the catch in all this? As the season starts, Harvick is 44 years old. History tells us that at some point, the wins and title runs will begin to taper off. He hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down yet, but Father Time overlooks no one, and at some point, title hunts won’t be the near-guarantee they have been. Harvick is absolutely capable of winning a second title, but it will need to happen soon.
For now, though, Harvick seems poised to lead SHR to another playoff run. The Fords may have been just a step behind the Toyotas in 2019, but that could change as teams are able to put a year’s worth of setup knowledge together with their Roush-Yates powerplants and make a case for being top dogs. Expect Harvick to be a leader in that pack, and expect another winning season for the No. 4. Harvick might be one of the series’ senior drivers, but he can still run with anyone out there. They don’t call him “The Closer” for nothing.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2020 Cup Championship: 9/2 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)