EXCLUSIVE: Kevin Harvick is in the driver’s seat and that’s exactly where he wants to be.
The regular-season NASCAR champ has been at the top of the points standings for most of the year and remains there as the payoffs enter the Round of 12.
“It’s kind of like being in control of a race. You'd rather be in control of where you are and running well. And I think as you'd look at this year, obviously, being on top of the points helps you line up for the next race.”
Instead of qualifying, NASCAR is using a formula that uses recent performance to set the starting grid for each playoff race instead of a random draw, and Harvick will be on pole for this weekend’s round in Las Vegas.
“Everybody's done a great job and we've worked all year to put ourselves in this position. And hopefully we can keep it rolling for seven more weeks,” he said.
The 44-year-old is chasing his second Cup Series championship and leads the field with nine wins this year. One more will make him the first driver to net 10 victories in a season since Jimmie Johnson did it on his way to the title in 2007.
Harvick said his starting position, which let him choose the first pit stall, could be particularly valuable at Las Vegas, where a new right-side tire compound will add a new variable to the already challenging track.
“Having those two pieces, starting first and in the first pit stall on our side is definitely, definitely a good start for us being in track position,” he said.
One thing Harvick won’t be worrying about is where he’ll be driving next year. While some of his competitors are in the middle of the “silly season” and trying to find new teams, he signed an extension with Stewart-Haas Racing back in February that runs through 2023.
The situation is quite different for the man sitting behind him in the standings, Denny Hamlin. Hamlin will be staying with Joe Gibbs Racing as a driver, but announced this week that he’s starting a new team next year in partnership with NBA legend Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace, and has plenty of work to do to make it happen in time for the Daytona 500 next Valentine’s Day.
“Anytime you can eliminate distractions is a good thing and maybe not just for me,” Harvick said.
“You know that your crew chief has to answer your team. Guys are reading things or your organization is having to field phone calls about your situation. Any anytime that you can eliminate distractions and conversation about things that are not directly related to competition is definitely a good thing.”
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Although he’ll be happy to beat the new team on the track, Harvick thinks Jordan's star power is a huge bonus for NASCAR that will bring new attention and sponsorship to the sport.
“I think when you look at the impact that it's already had and just the magnitude of the brand of Michael Jordan it’s really big,” Harvick said.
“There's just there's a there's no way that you can look at it that isn't a positive for all of us in NASCAR.”
It’s not the only change he would welcome. NASCAR has been running a compressed weekend schedule since it returned from the spring hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. There hasn’t been practice or qualifying at most Cup Series events, which take place over a single day instead of a weekend, and Harvick would like to see some of that continue into the future.
“I think as you look at the way that our sport has raced this year, nobody watching on television or in the grandstands would ever have been able to tell that we've practiced or qualified or we didn't practice or qualify,” he said.
“When you look at the magnitude of money that it's saving the teams, and the way that we can we can make that cost more reasonable, I think we I think we would be fools to go back to how we did everything before.”
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