*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for 24 drivers. We will release one driver preview per day over a 24-day stretch.
Years in Cup: 16
Career Wins: 35
Biggest Accomplishment: 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion
For Kevin Harvick, 2016 fell short of expectations, but with one of the best teams in the garage area behind him, his worst points finish since 2012 will soon be a distant memory as he will be gunning for more wins and a second Cup Series championship in 2017.
Harvick entered 2016 after falling just short of the title in 2015 and was considered to be one of the title favorites and established himself as one of the drivers to beat for the championship with two wins and only five finishes outside of the top-10 in the first 26 races of the season.
However, things took a turn for the worst once the Chase began. Despite finishes of 20th and 37th in the first round of the Chase, a win at New Hampshire got Harvick into the second round. The bad luck from the first round followed him into the second, where he started the round off with a 38th place finish at Charlotte, but just as he had done in the first round, he rebounded with a win at Kansas the following week to punch his ticket into the third round.
A 20th place finish at Martinsville started Harvick off in the hole at the beginning of the third round and despite finishes of sixth and fourth in the next two races, he found himself eliminated from the Chase for the first time since the elimination format began in 2014.
Although he would not be competing for the championship at Homestead, Harvick went out and turned in a third place finish in the season finale to finish the season eighth in points.
Heading into 2017, Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers and the rest of the No. 4 team should be primed to bounce right back and be in the mix for race wins at the championship again. The team may have some hurdles with the manufacturer swap over the offseason from Chevrolet to Ford, but with Harvick and his team being at the top of the board at Stewart-Haas since Harvick came on board in 2014, there is no reason to think 2017 won’t be another multiple win season with a big bullseye on another championship.
Harvick has won races at all but four tracks on the Cup Series schedule, so if there aren’t too many headaches with the manufacturer swap, the 2014 series champion could complete the cycle and knock Kentucky, Texas, Pocono, and Sonoma off the list en route to his march toward the title.
“I think there is definitely a little bit of anxiousness to get on the race track next week in Phoenix. We have a new rules package and we know where we were last year from a lot of different avenues, but the hardest things to overcome will be a lot of the things that come with the technology side of things. Whether it is pulling things out of the database, putting them into the simulation programs, understanding all the tools we have. There may not be anything that you guys ever see on the race track. We may never miss a beat on the track and that is our goal. Our goal is to not miss a beat and contend to win races and progress through the year and get better. Our goals haven’t changed. We want to come out of the box strong, compete for race wins and try to run for another championship as we get to the end of the year,” said Harvick.
“I think you have to try to temper that enthusiasm a little bit just for the fact that you have to be realistic about all the things we just did. In the Truex situation, that was one car, not four. It has been a massive undertaking for the company to not only turn the whole company over from a manufacturer standpoint but to bring in 70 or 80 new people and start your own chassis shop. We have done some of these things but never to this magnitude. Not because we didn’t know how to do those things before, but just we didn’t want to waste the time because we didn’t have to. There has been a lot of planning put in place but we need realistic expectations of things that could happen, where you are at, how things could go.”
“All of us know that. If it is good we will work hard to get better. If it is not good we will work hard to get better. We just need a direction. We need to know where we stand. That is just a little bit of the unknown right now. Obviously everybody has worked a lot. That happens. As a team owner this is the worst time of year because all your road crew guys are in the shop with the shop guys that are in the shop all through the year. Those two don’t mix well when they are around each other a lot. It is an interesting time of year. It will be good to get out of the shop and get to the race track next week. It is all going to be good. We will make it that way, you just have to know where to start.”