Heat’s off for Harvick but he still aims to tame the Monster Mile

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick

DOVER — Last year, Kevin Harvick looked at the possible end of his Sprint Cup championship hopes straight in the eye at Dover International Speedway — and laughed.

Harvick had to win at Dover one year ago in order to advance to the Round of 12 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

No pressure. No worries. Just mash the gas and go.

Harvick simply started 15th, quickly rallied his No. 4 Chevrolet to the front of the pack and led 355 of 400 laps to beat runner-up Kyle Busch to the checkered flag at Dover by 2.639 seconds.

While he eventually failed to go on and capture the championship, it was a race that proved the never-say-die attitude of Harvick and his race team.

“I think as a group we’ve been able to do things when we needed to do things and put days together when they really count,” Harvick said. “So, I’m glad we have that experience because there are those times when you have to put your back up against the wall and do things most other people can’t do.”

This year is an entirely different visit to the Monster Mile. After winning at New Hampshire last week, Harvick is already ensured a spot in the next round of the championship hunt.

But NASCAR fans can be well-assured that Harvick will still be gunning for another victory at Dover when the green flag waves on the Citizen Soldier 400 this afternoon at 2.

While Harvick isn’t facing a must-win scenario today, he isn’t overlooking other drivers who might be able to pull off the same type of clutch performance that he was able to last year.

Harvick’s car owner Tony Stewart, who is retiring from the Sprint Cup Series at the end of the season, is currently 11 points behind Kyle Larson, who currently holds the 12th and final transfer spot. Jamie McMurray and Austin Dillon are both five points behind Larson.

“Anyone can throw a ‘Hail Mary,’” Harvick said. “I think there are only a handful of drivers and teams that are capable of finishing those off. I would consider us one of those teams just for the fact that we’ve done it before. We did that last year at Dover. We did that the year before at Phoenix and Homestead.”

Harvick enjoys the challenge that the high-banked, one-mile concrete layout that Dover offers. The truth is, the Monster Mile has not always been so kind to him.

Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion, has been fast at Dover since joining Stewart-Hass Racing at the beginning of 2014, scoring one win, one pole and two top-five finishes. He has also led 810 of 2,005 laps in his last five races at Dover — 40.4 percent of the total laps raced since the beginning of 2014.

However, luck has not always been on his side when it comes to Dover.

In June 2014, Harvick started eighth, led 24 laps, but finished 17th after he had a valve stem issue during a pit stop that caused a tire to go down on the following restart and forced him to lose a lap.

He won the pole at Dover in September 2014. On race day, he stayed at the front of the field for 223 laps but had to settle for a 13th-place finish after another valve stem issue led to a flat tire following a pit stop and caused him to fall a lap down to the leaders.

Harvick started from the pole after qualifying was rained out in May. He led 117 laps early in the race before he was caught in an 18-car accident and finished one lap down in 15th.
He reversed his fortune with last fall’s clutch performance. It reiterated why he has grown to enjoy his visits to Dover so much.

“Dover is the racetrack where you feel the sensation of speed more than anything,” said Harvick. “It’s a place where you drop off into the corner and slam into a lot of banking and then, as you come out of the corner, it’s kind of like jumping out of a hole and up onto the straightaway.

“It’s a really fun place to race. You feel that sensation of speed and you can be really aggressive.”

And Harvick knows all about being aggressive – especially when his back is against the wall.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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