Kevin Harvick heads into the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night coming off a win and three top-10s in the last four races. He was in position to win last week’s All-Star race until a slow final pit stop caused him to finish second at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Now he goes into the Coca-Cola 600 looking for his third win in four years at NASCAR’s longest race of the season. Harvick won the 600-miler in 2011 and 2013, and feels he’s got another shot with his new No. 4 Chevrolet.
“The first minute that I was in that car, I haven’t quit smiling,” Harvick said. “It’s been so refreshing and so much fun to be part of that every day.”
Harvick, who won 23 races in 13 seasons driving for Richard Childress Racing, said there’s something different and special about his new Rodney Childers-led crew. He praised Stewart-Haas, too.
“The bottom line is the organization from a whole has given us every resource that we have asked for,” Harvick said. “You never talk about money. It’s just what do you need and how do we get it for you.”
Harvick broke through early to dominate at Phoenix for his first win with his new team, then went through some growing pains with four finishes of 36th or worse in his next five events. Things turned around at Darlington last month when Harvick outran Hendrick Motorsports stars Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson for the victory, and he hasn’t slowed down since.
Harvick credits much of the success to Childers, recruited by Stewart-Haas after two years as a crew chief at Michael Waltrip Racing. Childers and Harvick have connected over their desire to win, not just on race day, but during every practice session, tire test or pit stop.
“They all want to win and race for championships,” Harvick said, “and when you put (those) kind of people together with that determination, everybody pushes everybody else.”
Five things to watch during Sunday’s race:
EYES ON KURT: Fans won’t be the only ones watching Kurt Busch’s try at the grueling, 1,100-mile double of the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600.
Busch’s colleagues in NASCAR will be following very closely.
Clint Bowyer said he can’t wait to get up Sunday and watch the Indy 500 to see how Busch is doing.
“Fans are paying attention to that and we’re paying attention, everybody in this room and everybody in this garage area is paying attention to it,” Bowyer said. “That’s a big story for us.”
JOHNSON’S SEASON: It’s been a long, dry season for defending Sprint Cup champion Johnson, who’s been winless this season through 11 races to match his longest drought, at the start of the 2003 season.
But Johnson showed some signs he’s ready to break back on top, collecting his first pole of the season for Sunday’s race.
Johnson has had success at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a record-tying six previous wins including three in the Coca-Cola 600.
“If I win, then I’m winning too much. If I’m not winning, then it’s ‘Why aren’t you winning?’ So I can’t do it right either way. I learned a long time ago to not pay attention to the outside voices and influences and just worry about my race team,” he said.
SUPER DALE JR.: Earnhardt will be running with Superman on his No. 88 machine as part of a multi-year sponsorship deal between Hendrick Motorsports and DC Comics.
Earnhardt was asked what super power he’d most like to have.
“Super-human strength would be the best one to have, I think. Being able to pick stuff up and throw it across the yard would be fun. You can impress your friends and show off for the ladies,” he said.
LONG, LONG RACE: In NASCAR’s longest event, it doesn’t pay to take chances early on.
Harvick said he keeps telling himself to stay patient because the extra 100-miles gives teams that much more time to get the car perfectly tuned for last stretch. It’s also about nutrition, said Jamie McMurray.
“It’s always about trying to get enough food in your system so that you’re not hungry or feel week toward the end,” he said.
MILITARY SALUTES: Few sports honor the military as well as NASCAR and expect another big show at Charlotte.
Goodyear again will adorn its race tires with “Salute Our Troops” and will match funds up to $50,000 raised through charity auction. Tommy Baldwin Racing teams are also involved in a “Salute The Troops” letter-writing initiative where people can send notes, cards and letters of thanks and support to military personnel.
Count on flyovers and military vehicles, too.