Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads up the road to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race with Daniel Knost serving as interim crew chief for the suspended Rodney Childers.
Childers is serving a one-race penalty for a rules infraction discovered in post-race inspection at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, following the March 19 event at Phoenix International Raceway.
Knost is SHR’s director of vehicle dynamics and he previously served as crew chief for SHR drivers Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. He served as Busch’s crew chief for 33 races in 2014, scoring a win, six top-fives and nine top-10s while leading the No. 41 team to a berth in the NASCAR playoffs. His win with Busch came at Martinsville in April 2014.
Knost moved to the No. 10 team with Patrick for the final three races of 2014 and continued with her through 2015. He led the squad to two top-10 finishes in 2015, including one at Martinsville, and guided Patrick to her career-best 24th-place rank in final championship standings.
Knost, Harvick and the No. 4 team will have their work cut out for them at Martinsville. The .526-mile paperclip-shaped racetrack is the shortest in NASCAR’s top series, and 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 2016. 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 NASCAR Cup Series 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 six Martinsville starts since the start of 2014.
Harvick is returning from an unusually rough stretch on NASCAR’s West Coast Swing, where he normally has one of his strongest showings of the season. He suffered a cut tire at Las Vegas which led to a 38th-place result. He followed that with a sixth-place finish at Phoenix, where he has dominated in recent years. Last week at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, he sustained damage to the nose of his No. 4 Ford as the race came to the green flag and fell two laps down after a cut tire led to an unscheduled pit stop. Despite all of that, he team rallied to a 13th-place, lead-lap finish.
Harvick is hoping to change his luck this Sunday at Martinsville and score his first top-five there since joining SHR in 2014.