Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Kevin Harvick Still Searching for Speed

Despite Darlington Raceway dishing out its usual amount of chaos, Kevin Harvick was as steady as ever. Harvick came into Sunday’s (May 8) NASCAR Cup Series race with a streak of 12 consecutive top-10 finishes at the Lady in Black. He extended that streak for one more race, grinding his way to a fourth-place finish. On a day when many of the fastest drivers got knocked out of contention, Harvick methodically worked his way through the pack to score only his second top-five finish of 2022.

In fact, Sunday’s race was a microcosm of the past year for Harvick. Most of the time, the No. 4 team has been able to secure good finishes. Harvick scored a total of 24 top 10s last season, which was four more than he earned in 2014, his championship year. Most drivers on the grid would take a season with 24 top 10s in a heartbeat.

The only thing missing is wins. Harvick’s last victory came all the way back in the Bristol Motor Speedway Night Race of 2020. That was his ninth win of the season, unsurprisingly a personal best for Harvick and tops among all Cup drivers that year. Since then, 55 races later, Harvick remains shut out of victory lane.

Harvick’s drought is even more dramatic when you consider his history with Stewart-Haas Racing. Until last year, he and the No. 4 team never lacked for race winning speed. From 2014-2020, Harvick won 35 races, averaging an even five wins per season. Compare that to Harvick’s 13 years with Richard Childress Racing where he earned 23 wins, averaging 1.77 per year. Harvick clearly found something special with SHR that allowed him to reach a whole new level of performance.

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But now, while Harvick’s rate of top-10 finishes has not slowed down, the rate at which he is winning races and leading laps clearly have. Before last year, Harvick’s worst season for laps led with SHR was 2017, when he paced the field for just 850 circuits. That was the year SHR switched over to Ford, and even so, 850 laps led across an entire season is still a good accomplishment. Harvick’s total laps led in 2021? Only 217 for the entire season. Things are no better thus far in 2022, where he’s led only 13 laps.

If there is any consolation for Harvick, it’s that the lack of speed at SHR appears to be a team wide problem. The organization struggled across the board last season, winning just one race with veteran Aric Almirola. His win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was the lone bright spot in an otherwise miserable season for the No. 10 team. Seemingly every week, something went wrong for Almirola, and it left the normally reliable driver buried in points until the playoffs began. Predictably, Almirola was eliminated in the first round.

SHR’s younger drivers faired no better last year. Chase Briscoe secured Rookie of the Year and showed flashes of potential on the road courses, but otherwise had few highlights during 2021. The No. 14 team often struggled to score stage points and bring fast cars to the track. Cole Custer, who won a race during his rookie campaign in 2020, was also off the pace most weeks. His best finishes all year were a pair of 10th place results. Both drivers likely would have benefitted from more practice time last year. Without years of experience at the wheel of a Cup Series car, 2021 was a rough road for Briscoe and Custer.

Things have looked a bit better for the other SHR drivers this year, at least to a point. Briscoe scored his first Cup Series win and showed a lot more speed in the early weeks of the season, although the No. 14 team has cooled off since then. Almirola is back to his usual pattern fighting for top 10s most weeks, though he still rarely makes a serious challenge for race wins. Custer is still struggling as much as last year, though there have been a number of races where the No. 41 team was in position to score a good finish but got hit with bad luck, including Sunday’s race. Custer’s issues notwithstanding, it looks like SHR has taken at least a small step forward.

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Yet the race winning speed is still missing. Briscoe is the only SHR driver to lead more than a dozen laps so far, but he only has 187 to his name. He and the No. 14 team did a great job winning at Phoenix Raceway, but it’s not like Briscoe is going out and dominating races. Nobody at SHR is, not even Harvick.

Perhaps the scariest part of Harvick’s winless drought isn’t the lack of wins itself, but his inability to separate himself from his teammates. SHR’s drivers have gone through rough patches before, but Harvick always seemed to be immune. Even when drivers like Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart himself were struggling, SHR could always count on Harvick to be contending for wins. It is part of what has made Harvick’s run with SHR so impressive, seeing him weather the storm noticeably better than other veteran teammates, including a couple past champions.

This year, Harvick seems just as hampered by slow cars as his teammates do. It honestly looks like Briscoe could make the deepest playoff run of the SHR cars if he could find more consistency. Finishing well is not a problem for Harvick. It never has been. But the lack of speed in Harvick’s cars is something totally new, and it has kept the No. 4 out of victory lane for over a year and a half’s worth of races. And, until Harvick shows some more speed on race day, it is hard to see him ending that drought any time soon.

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southwest Florida.

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Ann

Ford overall has had a “speed” problem for years. Crickets from those who can make a positive change. Deaf ears.

johndawgchapman

It sounds like the SH team had found some kind of aero trick that allowed his 9 wins in the ’20 season. That was taken away from last year.

So far, this season has been a lot like the last one. Good points finishes but not competing for wins. There’s a world of difference between a top 10, & a win. Solid finishes can get someone into the playoffs.

But without the playoff points from stage, & race wins, It’s really hard to advance past the first round.

Christopher

Harvick’s time is coming to a close. He may get a win or two in what’s left of his career but the days of being a championship contender are over. Happens to everyone.

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