It’s a good time of year for things to start going right.
With three races remaining before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs commence, Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) head to one of the season’s most popular events – Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway bullring – fresh off their second victory of the season and second in the last four events.
A year ago this weekend, Harvick also arrived at the high-banked, half-mile concrete Bristol oval having scored the season’s seventh victory the previous Sunday at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, like he did this past Sunday. Last year’s Michigan win was his seventh of 2018, but he would get just one more the rest of the way en route to a third-place finish in the playoff finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In stark contrast this season, it took the No. 4 team 20 races to get its first win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon four weekends ago, but that solid performance signaled a much-needed turnaround in its fortunes. It was followed by a sixth-place result from Harvick’s fourth Busch pole position at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and a seventh-place finish on the road course at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International before Sunday’s victory at Michigan.
After two wins in four weeks on two vastly different types of racetracks – the flat, mile oval at New Hampshire and the superfast 2-mile Michigan oval – Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers sense the arrival of the kind of momentum it takes to execute another championship run through the 10-race playoffs, which begin Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.
Saturday night’s typically grueling 500-lap race takes Harvick and his team to yet another unique type of track where he has tasted victory twice before. In August of 2016, in his third season with SHR, Harvick started 24th at Bristol but led 128 laps en route to victory. He also won at Bristol while driving for Richard Childress Racing in April 2005.
All told, Harvick has one pole, 12 top-five finishes, 19 top-10s and has led a total of 884 laps in his 37 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Bristol. His average start there is 16.9, his average finish is 13.2 and he has a lap-completion rate of 98 percent – 18,157 of the 18,527 laps available.
In this year’s Bristol spring race, Harvick had to start from the back of the field and fell as much as four laps off the pace during the middle stage after contact outer SAFER Barrier. But he rallied his way back to the lead lap and passed four cars in the closing laps for what turned out to be a hard-earned 13th-place finish.
Come Saturday night, Harvick hopes and the No. 4 Busch Beer Ford Mustang team for SHR hope to keep the momentum rolling along from that strong closing effort in the Tennessee hills last April and their recent pair of victories.