FONTANA, Calif. — In the immortal words of Major League II‘s Lou Brown, “We won a game yesterday. If we win one today, that’s two in a row. If we win one tomorrow that’s called a winning streak. It … has … happened … before.”
Kevin Harvick is on some kind of winning streak.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has won the past three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, in a 2018 season that is but four races deep. That’s … insane? Ridiculous? Unprecedented?
All of the above.
In NASCAR history, eight drivers have strung together four consecutive victories against the best competition stock car auto racing has to offer — five of them went on to win that year’s title — but never this early in the season. Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team can join the club this weekend in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), joining the likes of Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip all the way to Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
“I’m just happy to win one, let alone two in a row, three in a row,” Harvick said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. “And this most likely probably will be the only opportunity that you’ll ever have to do it because it’s hard to string together just putting a whole day together, and the odds of putting three weeks together …
“Anytime you can put your name next to a group of guys on a list (like that) is something that’s pretty special and just shows the magnitude of where our race team is at right now and how good it’s actually functioning.”
“Magnitude” is a good word for it — Harvick hasn’t exactly been sneaking his way into Victory Lane.
The 42-year-old has led a whopping 433 laps in his Atlanta-Las Vegas-Phoenix run, which is 39 percent of all the laps run this season and more than double the amount the next-highest driver has through four races (Kyle Busch, 147).
Keys to what Harvick and Co. have been doing?
Mental fortitude. Focus. Confidence. And it runs team-wide.
In other words, it’s all the things that matter in the NASCAR Playoffs and what most teams and drivers typically aren’t even sniffing in mid-March, with 22 races to go before the postseason even begins.
“I think everybody is extremely confident. I think that confidence just builds and every moment you just become more and more confident in the things that you can and can’t do,” Harvick said.
” … We’ve talked about this in the past, but how do you race every week like you do in playoff mentality and that’s really what it’s felt like the first four weeks that we’ve been on the race track. That part, to me, is fun because I feel like that’s really what Jimmie and Chad (Knaus, No. 48 crew chief) did for so many years was they raced with a playoff mentality every week and were able to accomplish that in the shop, and if you can accomplish that in the shop that’s unique just because it’s so mentally draining and takes so much work to stay up with everything as you look at all the details and things that come with that.”
Credit, also, the work everyone at SHR had to put in pre-2017 as the organization shifted from a Hendrick Motorsports-aligned Chevrolet backing to a Ford program. The 2014 champion said it took a lot of work to get to this point of winning races after the swap, and everyone at the shop “carried that same workload over (to this past offseason), but all the work it took to switch manufacturers was already done so it’s like you already put everything in position.”
Harvick’s win last week at Phoenix was particularly impressive. While he didn’t quite dominate like he had the previous two weeks — and just about every Phoenix race prior to that, it seems — he won the race with a statement, landing in Victory Lane without the aid of his car chief.
The No. 4 team had been penalized earlier in the week, one of the stipulations being that Robert “Cheddar” Smith was suspended for a pair of races.
The team took that penalty, used it to fire up the group and prevailed.
“We all have so much confidence in each other and then you add everything that happened with the penalty in the middle of all that and it just really added fuel to the fire.”
Playoff mode. Playoff mentality.
“… If you can get your team to that point of being able to be in that playoff race mindset every week, that’s something that most teams can’t do,” Harvick said.
And there’s little doubt what mode Harvick and the No. 4 team will be come Vegas in September, when the playoffs officially begin.