With Sunday’s win at Phoenix International Raceway effectively putting them into the Chase, we’ll perhaps see Kevin Harvick and his comrades on the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet push the envelope a bit more on race strategy in the remainder of the regular season.
Neither Harvick or his crew chief, Rodney Childers, believed the Phoenix triumph would change their overall game plan for next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
But Harvick did think it would give the team more opportunity to experiment as the season wears on.
“For [Childers], I think it allows him to stretch fuel windows and do a few things,” Harvick said after his first win for Stewart-Haas Racing. “For the guys in the shop, it allows them to really broaden their horizon on thought processes and things like that.
“You can really get aggressive on really everything.”
As for Childers, he was already looking ahead to the Vegas weekend, which begins in earnest on Thursday with a four-hour block of testing on the 1.5-mile oval.
“We feel like the cars we’re building right now are really good,” he said. “Thankfully, we have a little bit of a test session on Thursday to be able to see what we’ve got. If it’s not good, we’ve got time to work on it.
“We’ve got to keep making ourselves better. We made too many mistakes this weekend. Thankfully, we were able to overcome that. We’ve got probably a day of celebration in Vegas, but we’ve got a few other days where we need to concentrate on what we’re doing, making ourselves better, going out there and trying to win the race.”
There’s no doubt that NASCAR’s decision to make wins more important with the new points structure has rubbed off on the drivers.
Whereas Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano downplayed their Top-5 runs yesterday with essentially the same “winning is all that matters” line of thinking, Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to not worry too much about potentially running out of fuel late (a prospect that was negated anyway by a rash of late-race cautions).
“Normally, you’re just biting your fingernails when [the crew chief] says, ‘We’re two laps short, we have to find two laps,'” said Earnhardt, who finished second to continue his strong start to 2014. “The yellows are coming out, you think you’re saving, but you don’t know how much.
“Today, if we ran out, we run out, no big deal. We can gamble with a better conscience.”
And now, Harvick and his team can do the same starting at Las Vegas, which has not been an especially successful place for him over the years.
His best finish there is a second-place effort in the 2010 race, which was his last Top-5 result at the track. However, he did collect a Top-10 (ninth) there last year with Richard Childress Racing.