Listen to, read or watch any television show, race broadcast, article, podcast, etc. that focuses on NASCAR and you’ll hear one word to summarize the season so far: Toyota.
Kevin Harvick? He’s tuning it all out.
Granted, Toyota has won an astounding 15 of 31 races in 2016 and certainly is the most dominant manufacturer this season, particularly Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing with whom they have a technical alliance.
However, if there is anyone who has made a regular habit of breaking that up, it is Harvick.
Harvick won Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, his fourth victory of the season and second win in the last four races.
The 40-year-old driver led 74 of the 267 laps in a day that looked like it was one again going to be dominated by Toyota.
For much of the race, it was. Toyota occupied the top four starting spots before the race went green. Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth led 116 laps, but lost the handling in his car around the middle portion of the race and was never able to make it back to the top spot. Kenseth’s teammate Carl Edwards also had a fast race car, leading 61 laps.
However, due in large part to the final restart of the race, Harvick was able to pull away for the victory, leaving Edwards to battle teammate Kyle Busch, among others, for second.
“I just got two good restarts against the No. 19 [Carl Edwards],” Harvick said. “He didn’t have a car quite as close to him, and I was able to break that draft before I got to the middle of one and two and get away from him, so that was pretty awesome. I just needed to go for and that is really the mindset we go into every race in the Chase was to go for, and we did.”
Harvick has never been eliminated from a round in the Chase since this format was implemented back in 2014, and now he is locked into the Round of 8 with one race left in the current Round of 12.
The win at Kansas was no fluke for Harvick either. There are four drivers tied for four victories this season, and two of them are Toyota drivers. Brad Keselowski, a Ford driver, is the fourth. However, Keselowski hasn’t won a race since the July event at Kentucky while Harvick has been leading laps consistently for the last few weeks.
Yes, Chevrolet driver Jimmie Johnson won the week before, but he also hadn’t won a race since Auto Club Speedway in March.
In fairness, Harvick had also had a bad last couple of weeks, with two finishes outside of the top 30. However, neither of those finishes were from a lack of speed but rather from parts failures. Those certainly will keep a driver from winning championships, but that was arguably the only thing keeping him from winning – or contending for the win – at Dover or Charlotte.
“I think the best thing is that we prepare this thing for every race,” Harvick said. “I try every week to find something to motivate myself and I know these guys do the same thing. It’s hard to keep yourself motivated and continue to perform at a high level. Being able to do it for three years now says a lot about the character of this team and the things that they do. It is like they say, anything that is really, really hard to get and come by, there are going to be some obstacles and some bumps in the road. I am just really proud of everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
Now Harvick can rest easy this weekend at Talladega, a race that many teams have been dreading for weeks now. However, no one would be surprised if he wins there either and this is one track where Toyotas don’t necessarily have an advantage.
“I have no idea where we were in the points or how many we were behind,” Harvick said, referring to his points position prior to the race at Kansas. “The only thing we talked about was trying to figure out how to win this race, and if we didn’t win this race, what we needed to do at Talladega.”
A Toyota may still win Talladega and they may still win the championship. But Harvick sure is going to put up a fight before that happens and he may very well be able to pull through for his second NSCS championship in three seasons.