Kevin Harvick led a race-high 79 laps last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, only to fade to fifth after he and Kyle Larson were passed for the lead by eventual winner Brad Keselowski with 15 laps to go.
Nonetheless, P5 is a good start for him in the Chase’s Challenger Round, which continues this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Harvick figures that he simply needs two more solid weeks like that to safely enter the Contender Round as one of the Top 12 in the Chase Grid.
And in order to do that, knowing when and when not to take a chance will be important.
Take the series’ most recent visit to NHMS in July. Late in that race, Harvick took on two tires in a pit stop and was told to save as much fuel as he could.
That helped the team gain critical track position, but when the race was taken into green-white-checkered, Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart Haas Chevrolet ran dry on the restart. Instead of challenging Keselowski for the win, he finished 30th.
“I think there is a balance, I know for us, that we’ve tried to focus on, because it’s really not something that you want to flip the switch on and off as far as how you call a race and how you run a race…Now you have to take that fifth or six-place finish and move on and not wreck the car,” Harvick said this week.
“I think as far as going for it and trying to make up two laps of fuel or something like that like we did [at NHMS in July], you can’t do those types of things unless you’re just in a desperate position where you have to win a race.”
However, Harvick believes that the team’s improvement in consistency since Indianapolis will help them avoid such a scenario.
From the Brickyard 400 onward, they’ve garnered two runner-up finishes, four Top-5s, and six Top-10s in the last eight races. And they could have very well won last month at Atlanta if not for Harvick getting caught in a green-white-checkered crash.
Then there’s the new pit crew members that have migrated to the No. 4 crew for the Chase. Last Sunday at Chicagoland, the crew had a mishap with a loose wheel that forced Harvick to take an early restart in 22nd, but bounced back to help him get up among the leaders again.
Altogether, Harvick remains optimistic about what lies ahead.
“I feel like with the speed and all the things we have, that it’s just going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes as a group,” Harvick said. “You’ve got to have a little good luck to go along with that and hopefully, we’ve used our bad luck up along through the year and we can have a good 10 weeks.
“I’m excited and confident. You just never know how these things are going to play out, but if it plays out right, I think we have just as good a shot as anybody.”