Kevin Harvick enters 2014 Chase with perhaps best chance ever at Sprint Cup championship

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It may not exactly be grammatically correct, but it’s time for Kevin Harvick to get even happier and freaky faster.

As the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, Harvick is potentially in the best place he’s ever been in NASCAR’s playoffs.

Seeded sixth, Harvick has a number of tracks upcoming that could become the foundation of a legitimate championship run.

Of the 10 race venues in the Chase, Harvick has five wins at Phoenix, two apiece at Chicago and Charlotte, one each at Kansas, Loudon, Talladega and Martinsville.

He’s winless at Dover, Texas and Homestead, but has his share of top-five finishes at each of those venues.

Add all that up and 13 of Harvick’s 25 career Sprint Cup wins are on tracks that are in the Chase. Connect the dots and there’s a good likelihood that Harvick could be one of the biggest – yet potentially most effective – dark horses in the playoffs.

“I think we definitely have the race cars to do it,” Harvick told ESPN after Saturday night’s final Chase qualifying race at Richmond. “Our race cars are as fast as they need to be and everybody’s doing a great job bringing fast cars to the race track.

“If it all comes down, I feel we can do what we have to do on the racetrack to win a championship.”

Harvick comes into the Chase with two wins, which very easily could have been as many as seven had he not finished runner-up in five other races.

He went through the first half of the season with a number of issues on pit road that contributed to not being able to finish first instead of second so many times, but also cost him decent finishes at other tracks where he typically does well.

“We still have some hiccups on pit road that aren’t very good,” Harvick conceded. “At this point of the year you have to address those to beat those guys week in and week out.

“I know those guys can do it on pit road, but we just have to be more consistent to make that happen. We’ll see.”

His Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets are among the fastest of any team or manufacturer. His racing sense and finding the fastest lines around racetracks is matched by only a few others.

But no matter what Harvick can do behind the wheel, he ultimately will only be as good as his pit crew.

While things have gotten better on pit road over the last six or seven races, Harvick understands that to make it through the three elimination rounds in the Chase, he’ll not only have to win or have consistent top-fives, but will also finally resolve that thorny pit stop problem.

“I can’t fix them, but it’s probably the biggest thing that we have to fix in order to contend for the championship,” Harvick said. “I think our cars are as fast as they need to be. The guys do a great job of bringing fast cars every week. It’s just one mistake after another every week on pit road.”

Pit stop issues aside, Harvick has already devised his own strategy to get through the three elimination rounds that are new to the expanded 16-driver Chase.

“Well, you just have to survive, first off,” he said. “Obviously every three weeks, (the points) resets. You get to start over, start the fight again.

“I feel like you need to be consistent, but you need to capitalize on winning races because that guarantees you a trip to the next round.

“There’s lots of different ways to do it. You can’t force it, you just have to go out and do the things that you have to do to race every week and try to qualify well, lead laps, run up front. And when you have a chance to win you need to capitalize on it and try to figure it out.”

Harvick won the first two races held at Chicagoland Speedway, site of the Chase opener this coming Sunday, back in 2001 and 2002. He also had a strong test there two weeks ago.

To put it mildly, Harvick’s ready.

“Obviously there’s a lot of cars in the first round,” he said. “You just need three decent races and you’ll be fine. For us, we kind of took the approach to take a Chicago test and try to have that carry through the mile-and-a-half stuff as we went there. Hopefully that carries over.”

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IndyCar’s season finale at St. Pete approved to have 20,000 fans

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The NTT IndyCar Series’ season finale will be permitted up to 20,000 fans, making the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg possibly the circuit’s most well-attended race of 2020. The race originally was scheduled as the season opener before being moved to Oct. 25 because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

IndyCar has enjoyed limited crowds at Road America, Iowa Speedway, Gateway, Mid-Ohio and this weekend’s doubleheader races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, which could have up to 10,000 fans in attendance. That had been the largest maximum grandstand crowd for an IndyCar race this season.

At a St. Petersburg city council meeting Thursday, Mayor Rick Kriseman approved plans by race organizers Green Savoree Racing Promotions to hold the Oct. 23-25 weekend for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Pete with 20,000 fans who would follow health and safety protocols that include mandatory temperature checks and masks.

 “My thanks to Green Savoree Racing Promotions and IndyCar for their flexibility and resilience during this challenging time,” Kriseman said in a release. “I know that everyone is excited to get back on the track in St. Pete. I can’t wait for Oct. 23rd. I know everyone will embrace this race the St. Pete way, adhering to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Let’s have some great racing in the Sunshine City.”

Paddock and the pit lane will remain closed to spectators, and social distancing of at least 6 feet will be observed on site.

“Our entire team greatly appreciates the patience and understanding of our ticket holders as we worked through this process with Mayor Kriseman, City Council and local health officials,” Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of Green Savoree Promotions. “It’s important for everyone who attends to read and follow all the COVID-19 protocols to contribute to a fun, safe and successful event for us all.”

“The ongoing guidance and support of Mayor Kriseman, City Council, and the City of St. Petersburg’s event team have been phenomenal,” said Kevin Savoree, co-owner, president and COO of Green Savoree Promotions. “We also would not be in this position to move this spring tradition to fall without Firestone’s unwavering commitment and dedication. It’s going to be a terrific weekend again in downtown St. Pete in three weeks featuring world-class racing from INDYCAR.”