Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser “Make A Plan To Make it Home”/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will officially begin defense of his 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship next weekend. He finished in 14th place Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway to wrap up the Sprint Cup regular season having scored the most regular-season points since the introduction of the new points system in 2011.
Behind his back-to-back victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway, 18 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s through the first 26 races of 2015, the defending Sprint Cup champion closed out the regular season with 978 points prior to the Chase driver points reset following Saturday night’s race. Harvick’s point total through the first 26 races surpassed the 914 regular-season points scored by Greg Biffle in 2012 and Jeff Gordon in 2014.
With the points reset to 2,000 for the 16 drivers who qualified for this year’s Chase, plus three bonus points for each regular-season victory, Harvick will begin the 10-race playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, fifth with 2,006 points, six behind four-time winners Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, and three behind three-time winner Joey Logano. Harvick began last year’s Chase tied for sixth in the standings before blazing to his first career Sprint Cup title behind playoff victories at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Phoenix and the Chase finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Saturday night’s regular-season finale at Richmond proved problematic for Harvick, who qualified sixth. He was able to maintain his position in the top-five over the opening 40 green-flag laps, and a stellar pit stop under the race’s first caution on lap 41 sent him back out on track third. But Harvick lost several positions when, during the next two pit stops under caution on laps 90 and 111, his crew experienced problems with the jack. He restarted 14th after the latter stop but then fought handling issues that ranged from loose immediately after four-tire stops to tight at the end of longer runs. Even lengthy front-end toe adjustments, which required three trips down pit lane under caution with just more than 100 laps remaining in the 400-lap race, couldn’t help Harvick finish on the lead lap.“We were just way off,” said Harvick, who has led 1,450 laps thus far this season, second-most in his career to the 2,137 he led last season. “We were basically racing on three tires after 16 laps. The left-front tire kept wearing out, for whatever reason. But everybody on this Budweiser/Jimmy John’s team has done a great job in the regular season. Believe it or not, we’ve had our worst two races as a group come right here the last two seasons. We finished one-two here in the spring, but Kurt (Busch) and I were just a bit off tonight. I’m just glad we don’t have to run a Chase race here. I’ve been waiting for weeks to get to Chicago and get the Chase started. I know how much preparation and time everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing and especially Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and all our guys on our No. 4 team have put into these next 10 weeks. It’s what it’s all about. It’s a whole different way of racing, it’s a whole different mindset once you go into Chicago. It’s kind of a take-no-prisoners attitude. ‘I don’t like you and I know you don’t like me and that’s OK.’ You race like that on every lap, and you just go after it.”