The best way for Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), to defend his 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship is to win his second consecutive race at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway in Sunday’s 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale.
The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion secured his title with a come-from-behind win in the final Sprint Cup race of 2014 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick came to pit road for four tires and fuel on lap 249, while several competitors opted for a two-tire strategy that put Harvick back in the 12th position for the lap 252 restart of the 267-lap event.
Harvick raced his way from 12th to seventh before the caution flag waved again on lap 254. When the field went back to green at lap 258, he quickly raced up to second and took the lead with just seven laps remaining. The final caution of the race came on lap 261, which set up the field for a three-lap dash to the finish. Harvick held off fellow Championship Round competitor Ryan Newman by 0.500 of a second to score the win and secure the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship.
In 2015, Harvick is the only driver from the 2014 Championship Round to return to the “championship four” in 2015. He is joined by Championship Round newcomers Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch for the winner-take-all final race.
While he faces stiff competition in the Championship Round, Harvick has reason for optimism as he leads the Sprint Cup Series with 12 second-place finishes, 22 top-five finishes , 27 top-10s, 2,248 laps led with an average finish of 8.9.
In 14-career Sprint Cup starts at Homestead-Miami, Harvick’s 7.6 average finish is highest among the remaining competitors. His 102.5 driver rating at Homestead-Miami since 2005 ranks second of the four Championship competitors, trailing only Truex Jr.’s 106.6.
Harvick has finished best among the remaining competitors in 17 of the 35 Sprint Cup races in 2015, Kyle Busch has finishes highest in eight races and both Gordon and Truex Jr. have each finished highest in five races.
The defending Sprint Cup champion leads several other statistical categories: 118.9 driver rating, 48 bonus points, 1,370 fastest laps run, 35.6 percent of fastest laps run, 22.1 percent of laps led, 2,682.61 miles led, 9,245 laps in the top-15, 91.0 percent of laps in the top-15 and average running position of 7.264.
Harvick is the first driver to lead 2,000 laps in consecutive seasons since Jeff Gordon in 1995 and 1996. The last three drivers to lead more than 2,000 laps in a single season have all gone on to win the Sprint Cup championship. Jeff Gordon led 2,320 laps in 2001, Jimmie Johnson led 2,238 laps in 2009, and Harvick led 2,137 laps in 2014.
While consistency has been key for Harvick throughout the season, his appearance in the Eliminator Round came anything but easily. The defending series champion raced his way from the Challenger Round to the Contender Round with a dominant performance in a “must-win” situation at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. He fought off elimination by leading 355 of 400 laps at Dover en route to scoring his first Chase win of the season.
In the Contender Round, Harvick finished second at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, 16th at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and 15th at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway to advance to the Eliminator Round.
The defending Sprint Cup champion punched his ticket to the Championship race at Homestead by way of points scored in the Eliminator Round. Harvick finished eighth at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, third at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and second last weekend in the rain-delayed and rain-shortened race at Phoenix International Raceway. His goals this weekend at Homestead-Miami is to defend his 2014 Sprint Cup championship with his second consecutive win in the final race of the season.