BROOKLYN, Mich.--Kevin Harvick has seen this storyline before.
Driver leads race. Driver dominates race. Driver loses race.
Whether it’s a part failure or a problem in the pits, Harvick, who is winless in 2019, has endured his share of heartbreak this season.
“I am beyond all the frustration,” Harvick said. “To me, it's now a challenge just because I feel like this is very similar to 2014 and 2017. I can see the progression in the speed of the cars and the things we have done, and, honestly, we just chose the wrong direction to start the year. Our cars weren’t where they needed to be, and everyone realizes that as a company.
“We had some situations where we were in a position to win some races and had some things go wrong, whether it was my team or the 14 (Clint Bowyer). In the end, our cars just weren’t fast enough.”
Not one of the four of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers has won this season. Harvick’s best result is a fourth-place finish—five times in the first 14 races. He’s fifth in the standings, the only SHR driver in the top 10.
Last week at Pocono Raceway, Harvick had a competitive car. He finished fifth in the first stage, then opted to pit early and restarted second on Lap 106 for the final stage. But when he pitted behind eventual winner Kyle Busch on Lap 123, the No. 4 pit crew was busted for an uncontrolled tire. Harvick served a drive-thru penalty and dropped to 21st.
Twenty-five laps later, Harvick returned to pit road with a cracked steering box. He finished 22nd, one lap down.
“I think everybody has kept their head down and are looking at it as a challenge now,” Harvick said at Michigan Speedway. “Aside from the second half of the Charlotte race, I think over the last month or so the cars are going in the right direction. Aric had a great test at Indianapolis and that is really the benefit of having quality teammates and people that communicate and an organization like we have with (team owners) Gene (Haas) and Tony (Stewart) letting the racers go race.
“Sometimes that overrules the engineering. Not saying that our engineering guys did anything wrong, but it was just the direction just wasn’t right to be able to do the things that we are doing on the race track in the cars in real life scenarios that are being covered with what we are doing on the track is what really tells the tale. We are all pulling the rope in the right direction now and feel like we have made some good gains.”
As part of NASCAR’s “Big 3” last year, Harvick scored a career-best eight wins and finished third in the standings, his third appearance in the Championship 4 since winning the championship in 2014. But, clearly, the new aero/engine package threw SHR a curve, whereas Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske were able to hit the ground running.
On Friday, Harvick posted the fastest single-lap in Happy Hour (188.763mph). His SHR teammate posted the Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average —187.273mph. Harvick was fourth quick.
Harvick understands that racing is cyclical. It’s just a matter of how teams adapt when they are behind.
“You have to build, you have to rebuild, build and rebuild,” Harvick said. “You're on the good side of it and the bad side of it, and it all has a funny way of cycling itself through. We have had a number of challenges since I have been here with Tony, in and out of the car and drivers changing. It's a resilient group of people that continue to set aside the frustrations and look forward.
“We were all frustrated Sunday, because we were in a position to win the race. It is hard to put your thumb on everything and know when steering boxes are going to break. I know we had a pit road penalty, but they had a phenomenal day on pit road. There were just a number of things that piled onto one stop there. At this point, in these types of situations for me, they are almost more fun than winning all the time, because you get to talk about things and live that frustration and go through those scenarios.
"And in the end, sometimes it makes you stronger.”