Harvick still has gas in his tank as he adapts to Next Gen

Apr 5, 2022, 8:53 PM | Updated: Apr 6, 2022, 8:56 am
FILE - Kevin Harvick is shown during NASCAR Daytona 500 auto racing media day at Daytona Internatio...

FILE - Kevin Harvick is shown during NASCAR Daytona 500 auto racing media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Kevin Harvick is a fading star trying to keep pace in a NASCAR that is more and more suited for younger drivers. But he heads to Martinsville Speedway coming off a second-place finish that showed Harvick still has plenty in his tank. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick, by all measurable statistics, is a fading star trying to keep pace in a NASCAR that now seems more suited for younger drivers.

He’s 46 years old, after all, and in his 22nd full NASCAR season. Harvick went winless all of last year — he actually hasn’t won since late in the 2020 season — and his 9-year-old son has his own thriving racing career.

A slow start to the season hasn’t helped.

It’s been NASCAR’s younger drivers who have been fastest to adapt to the new Next Gen car, with Harvick among the veterans still trying to figure it out. He and Stewart-Haas Racing finally hit on something last week at Richmond to score their best finish through the first seven races; Harvick ran second to Denny Hamlin.

The Hamlin win snapped a 12-race streak dating to last season of race winners aged 30 or younger, and the 1-2 finish with Harvick showed that NASCAR’s veterans still have plenty in the tank. As he heads to Martinsville Speedway for a Saturday night race at the Virginina short track, Harvick warned not to count out the No. 4 team: Harvick is committed to SHR, NASCAR and winning a second Cup Series championship.

“I like where I race. I like Stewart-Haas Racing. I like the atmosphere. I like the people,” Harvick said. “That’s really the biggest reason that I like to do it, especially this year. You’re with a group of people where you’re constantly problem solving. You’re trying to fix it faster than everybody else and come to something that is better than everybody else so you can win races.

“I like the core group of guys that I started here with. That’s why they all came here, and I guess I would feel like I’m abandoning them if I didn’t go a couple more years. For me, I still enjoy that challenge. I enjoy where this series is, and learning about the new car is not a bad thing to do as you go forward into the future and do something different.”

Harvick is in his ninth season driving the No. 4 Ford for SHR, the team that led him to his only Cup title in their 2014 debut season. He’s an annual title contender, though, and went door-to-door with Hamlin all of 2020 in what was shaping up to be an epic title battle.

Although Harvick won nine races that season, he was eliminated from the title-deciding race the week before the championship. Last season was off across the board for SHR, and even though he was winless, Harvick still finished fifth in the final Cup standings.

This year hasn’t been awful, but Harvick simply wasn’t as competitive as typically expected through the first six races of the season in NASCAR’s new car. But Harvick said he and crew chief Rodney Childers expected early growing pains and worked hard during the offseason to troubleshoot in advance.

“We’ve put in a lot of time this year; the simulator, we’ve been to two tests so far,” Harvick said. “We knew coming into this year that we had some habits we were going to have to break, thought processes that you were going to have to break, to really understand this car, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that with all the adversity we’ve gone through so far this year.

“Martinsville will just be more of that same process, and that’s going to be our aggressive process until we get to victory lane.”

At 0.526 miles, Martinsville is the shortest track on the schedule and its tight corners and limited 12 degrees of banking lends to a physical race. It’s also NASCAR’s oldest speedway and entrenched in the sport’s history.

However, it’s so much of a challenge that Harvick said: “I definitely would tell you it’s not a racetrack that I would say, ‘This is where I want to go.’ It’s just not been a place where I’ve had streaks of success.”

Indeed, he’s won at Martinvsille in all three of NASCAR’s national series. But his 2011 victory is his only Cup win in 41 starts at the Virginia short track. From what he’s seen of the Next Gen so far, Harvick expects a good deal of bumping and banging Saturday night.

He knows the Next Gen car can withstand the contact and, had he gotten close enough to Hamlin on Sunday at Richmond, Harvick admitted he’d have tried to move Hamlin for the win.

“You just have to be mentally prepared to know that there is going to be contact as you go through that race,” Harvick said. “You just have to try to stay as calm as possible.”

___

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Milwaukee Brewers' Luis Urias, left, is tagged out at home by Miami Marlins' Jacob Stallings during...
Associated Press

Marlins win in 12, putting Brewers’ playoff hopes on ropes

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Miguel Rojas knocked in the go-ahead run in the top of the 12th inning to give the Miami Marlins a 4-3 win over the Brewers on Sunday, deflating Milwaukee’s playoff hopes in the race for the final National League wild-card spot. Milwaukee (84-75) is two games behind the Philadelphia for the third […]
16 hours ago
St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, left, starting pitcher Adam Wainwright (50) and first ba...
Associated Press

Pujols hits 702nd HR, ties Ruth in RBIs, Cardinals lose 7-5

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Albert Pujols hit his 702nd career home run and tied Babe Ruth for second on the all-time RBI on Sunday, but the Pittsburgh Pirates took the game from the St. Louis Cardinals 7-5. Ben Gamel and Bryan Reynolds homered for Pittsburgh, which has won four of six. Chase DeJong (6-2) got […]
16 hours ago
Fans watch the Philadelphia Phillies play against the Washington Nationals in a baseball game, Sund...
Associated Press

Schwarber, Wheeler lift Phils over Nats 8-1 in rainy game

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Philadelphia Phillies picked up another key victory as they try to end an 11-year playoff drought, using three RBIs apiece from Kyle Schwarber and Bryson Stott, plus Zack Wheeler’s five scoreless innings, to beat the Washington Nationals 8-1 Sunday in a rain-shortened game. The six-inning win helped Philadelphia take three of […]
16 hours ago
Ross Chastain (1) leads a pack of cars to through the Tai-Oval during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race...
Associated Press

Elliott advances in NASCAR playoffs with Talladega victory

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Chase Elliott raced his way into the next round of the playoffs with a victory Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in the first clean race yet of this year’s postseason. Elliott was fifth on the final restart with two laps remaining and claimed control of the outside lane to stalk leader Ryan […]
16 hours ago
Houston Astros' Jeremy Pena drives in Chas McCormick with an RBI single during the seventh inning o...
Associated Press

Pena homers, drives in 3 to lead Astros over Rays 3-1

HOUSTON (AP) — Jeremy Pena hit an early two-run homer and drove in an insurance run late, lifting the Houston Astros to a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday. One pitch after Jose Altuve’s leadoff bunt single, Pena belted a cutter by Rays starter Corey Kluber (10-10) over the right-field fence and […]
16 hours ago
Chicago Cubs starter Marcus Stroman delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game aga...
Associated Press

Contreras gets ovations, Stroman goes 6, Cubs beat Reds 8-1

CHICAGO (AP) — Willson Contreras got several standing ovations in what could be his final home game at Wrigley Field, Marcus Stroman threw six scoreless innings and the surging Chicago Cubs won their seventh straight, beating the Cincinnati Reds 8-1 on Sunday. Nelson Velázquez drove in four runs, helping Chicago match its best run since […]
16 hours ago
Harvick still has gas in his tank as he adapts to Next Gen