Must-win situations can intimidate and terrify the best of athletes. NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick thrives when it’s winner-take-all.
A year ago, Harvick came to Kansas Speedway buried in the 12 th and final playoff spot and needed to win the Hollywood Casino 400 to ensure advancement in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs.
And that’s exactly what Harvick did, storming to the lead with 30 laps to go and beating Carl Edwards to the checkered flag by 1.183 seconds.
Harvick and nine other drivers will face a similar scenario in this Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. Harvick enters the elimination race in fourth place, 22 points ahead of the cutoff, but he still must either win or accumulate 41 points to guarantee passage to the Round of 8.
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One blown engine or early-race crash can wreck a season.
“Last year we didn’t have any options,” Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing said Wednesday. “We had to win the race, and we were able to do that. That says a lot about the backbone of this team and how much grit they have in them to perform when our backs are against the wall.
“For us, we just need to do what we’ve been doing and that’s capitalizing on fast cars. Kansas is one of our best race tracks over the last several years. You view it as one your opportunities to win a race, but it’s a tough balance, being a cutoff race ... the ultimate goal is to try and win the race and score as many stage points as you can, and if you can get some playoff points, that will go a long way to surviving and advancing.”
Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion, is a two-time winner at Kansas, also having won the 2013 race fall race from the pole. Harvick’s average finish of 10.0 in 23 starts is second only to three-time winner Jimmy Johnson’s 9.6, but Harvick has been particularly dominant at the track since it was repaved and refigured in 2012.
In addition to his two victories since 2012, Harvick has three second-place finishes and was third in last May’s race. Harvick also owns the track’s qualifying record of 194.658 mph set in May 2014 when he won the second of three consecutive poles.
“The repave is definitely what changed and turned things around for us at Kansas,” said Harvick, 41. “Really, I liked the racetrack the way it was before with the asphalt really worn out and cars sliding all over. But, once the repave happened, we were able to really hit on some things and, for whatever reason, it kind of fits my driving style and we have gotten some good results out of it.”
Since winning the championship in 2014, Harvick has finished second and eighth in the playoffs, and it’s become increasingly important to his legacy to win another title.
“Winning that first championship almost made it addicting,” he said. “You realize you finally accomplished and did all the things you’ve been racing your whole life for, and the end goal was to win a Cup championship.
“And once you did that, you’re like, ‘That was pretty cool. We need to do that again.’ It was very gratifying as a team, but very motivating. You realize if you can win another championship, the company you would keep with two championships is a lot smaller group than the people who have won at least championship.
“That’s definitely the goal, and is very motivating.”