Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is going to have to earn it if he wants to reach victory lane Sunday afternoon in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The .526-mile paperclip-shaped racetrack is the shortest on the Sprint Cup circuit while its low banking and tight corners provide some of the closest and toughest competition on the schedule.
Due to the tight quarters, a racecar rarely finishes a race at Martinsville without a tire mark on the door or a few dents in the sheet metal.
What makes it even more maddening for competitors is that they can race to the front of the field and stay there throughout the majority of the event, only to get shuffled back on a late-race restart if they wind up in the outside lane.
Harvick and the No. 4 team suffered that very fate at Martinsville in April, when he started 19th, raced to the front and led 72 laps before being stuck in the outside lane on consecutive late-race restarts, ultimately finishing 17th.
But the madness of Martinsville can work to a driver’s benefit, as well. Harvick found that out in April 2011, when he started ninth, led just six of 500 laps and beat runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line by .727 of a second.
Martinsville is one of only three Sprint Cup venues where Harvick has yet to score a top-five finish since joining SHR in 2014 – Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Kentucky Speedway in Sparta are the other two. He may be looking for his first top-five at Martinsville since joining SHR, but he has shown speed and consistency at the Virginia short track with three top-10 finishes and 265 laps led in his five Martinsville starts since the start of 2014.
The No. 4 team has used a winning strategy to advance to this point in the Chase. The team advanced to the Round of 12 with a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon before locking into the Round of 8 with a win at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
The Round of 8 should prove to be a challenge for Harvick and the No. 4 team. It features Martinsville this weekend, Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth next weekend – one of four tracks on the circuit where he has yet to record a Sprint Cup win – and perhaps the saving grace of the round for the No. 4 team at Phoenix International Raceway, where Harvick has won six of his last eight Sprint Cup starts and has finished no worse than second in his last six starts at the mile oval.
The Bakersfield, California native continues his streak as the only driver since the inception of the elimination-style format in 2014 to avoid an early exit in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
He’ll look to keep that streak alive and well with a fresh start to this year’s Round of 8 on Sunday at Martinsville.