Is Kevin Harvick done? That question was bandied about a lot in 2021 after Harvick failed to find Victory Lane for the first time since 2009. After nine wins in 2020, the 2021 goose egg is a concern — but the rest of the numbers tell a different tale.
Harvick’s top-5 finishes did take a hit, with just 10 in 2021 compared to 20 in 2020. But he still scored 24 top 10s, third best in the Cup Series and just two fewer than series champion Kyle Larson. Harvick’s 10.9 average finish was also topped only by Larson and Denny Hamlin.
That doesn’t look like a driver who’s done, but it does look like one whose team fell behind. While Stewart-Haas Racing remains among NASCAR’s elite, the organization slumped badly last year. Their only win was a New Hampshire upset from Aric Almirola; drivers Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe failed to earn a single top-5 finish.
That’s not to say Harvick doesn’t have a lot going for him at SHR. He was handpicked by team owner Tony Stewart in 2014 and immediately rewarded that confidence by winning the title. The organization might not be winning at a torrid pace, but they retain both the financial and manufacturer support needed to climb back into contention.
Harvick also attracts backers because of his and his team’s success, and that’s no small thing in this day and age. The team added a new sponsor for a handful of races in 2022 in GearWrench. The team hadn’t announced Harvick’s complete sponsor package as of press time, but there has been no indication that they’re worried about backing for the future Hall of Fame driver.
If SHR is a half-step behind other teams, then Harvick’s been getting the most out of every car, because he was remarkably consistent last year, rarely finishing outside the top 10 and finishing worse than 20th just five times, with two of those finishes due to crashes.
Harvick and Rodney Childers have been together since Harvick moved to SHR in 2014, and they have one of the best driver-crew chief relationships in the series. They communicate well, and Childers handles the volatile Harvick deftly when the chips are down. His ability to channel Harvick’s aggression is a part of the reason the pair has 35 wins together over the last eight seasons. There are few pairings in recent history to produce that level of performance and longevity.
The new racecar could cause this season to go in a couple of different directions for Harvick, and all eyes will be on him. The car could put teams on more or less even footing entering the season, and Harvick and SHR can use that to regain their position at the top of the heap, catching up with Ford counterpart Team Penske as well as Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing.
But many drivers with long-term success have struggled when the cars changed too much from what they drove in their primes, making the transition critical for the 46-year-old. While he’s signed through 2023 and hasn’t mentioned retirement, the new car could change that. For Harvick, perhaps the biggest obstacle to winning another title before he calls it quits is time itself. He’d already be the oldest champion in Cup history, at an age when rivals Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon entered retirement.
This season may map out the future of Harvick’s career. If he rebounds, he can set up SHR for success, and he has much to offer the team’s younger drivers. If he flounders, his time may be limited. On a mission to win, he’ll make the Playoffs. The rest is still a question mark.