Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Ripe for the picking: Harvick climbs all-time win list, eyes Michigan sweep

The career milestones have come quickly for Kevin Harvick in recent years, and Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series triumph at Michigan International Speedway checked off yet another. Given recent performance, the next landmark win could come in a 24-hour turn.

Harvick continued inching his way up NASCAR’s all-time win list Saturday, scoring his 54th premier-series victory to pull into a tie for 11th place with three-time series champion Lee Petty. He’ll aim for the weekend doubleheader sweep in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM) at the 2-mile Michigan track. Doubling up would mean career win No. 55, which would tie him with Rusty Wallace in the sport’s record books.

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Harvick says he’s well aware of the elite territory he’s entering, nearer and nearer to stock-car racing’s all-time top 10. It’s a neighborhood populated with drivers — ahead of him and behind him on the list — who have been feted with the blue jackets awarded to NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees.

“Yeah, well, that’s a lot of pressure,” Harvick said after leading 92 of the 161 laps in Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400. “I ask myself that all the time. It’s what have you done for the sport, what are you doing for the sport because when you start talking about Junior Johnson and Lee Petty and Rusty Wallace and Ned Jarrett, all those guys that are on that list around my name on the win list, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that for our sport.

“I think as you look at that number, I’ve been fortunate to drive a lot of really fast race cars and we’ve been fortunate to be successful throughout the years, but when you start getting up there with those names and those icons in our sport, they’ve been a part of a lot of big moments and helping change the sport in a positive direction. That’s the way I look at it and the responsibility that I think I have.”

Harvick’s fifth victory of the year pulled him even with Denny Hamlin in the 2020 win column, and he’s in the midst of his eighth consecutive season with multiple wins. He’s also made the most of the opening race when consecutive Cup Series events have been held at the same track this year, a scheduling wrinkle that sprang from necessity after a two-month-plus shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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Harvick won the Darlington Raceway opener May 17, three days before the Cup Series held a second race at the South Carolina venue. He also opened Pocono Raceway’s Cup weekend doubleheader June 27th with a win. In both of those instances, Hamlin prevailed in the second leg of the Cup Series two-fer.

So what’s to keep Hamlin, who finished sixth Saturday, from following the pattern and cashing in Sunday at Michigan? For Harvick’s part, his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford will have to rise from the 20th starting spot after an inversion of Saturday’s top 20, but crew chief Rodney Childers says he isn’t planning for many drastic adjustments before the green flag.

“Right now, I don’t know how we could make our car better going into tomorrow, so that’s kind of where we’re at,” Childers said after Saturday’s win. “I think we’ll probably start with what we had today and see what it does mired back there in traffic. I heard a lot of guys today from different teams saying that their cars were really loose and out of the race track back there in traffic, and we heard some guys talking about they were too tight back there in traffic. So it was kind of hard to judge off other people, so we’re just going to hopefully roll with what we have and go from there.”

Note: Harvick’s victory handed Ford its fifth straight Michigan win. Another Ford triumph on Sunday would seal the Michigan Heritage Trophy, awarded to the top-performing manufacturer at the 2-mile track.