Editor’s Note: This continues the series of season reviews for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs drivers.
Driver: Kevin Harvick
Car: No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Rodney Childers
Final 2021 ranking: 5th
Key stats: 0 wins, 10 top fives, 24 top 10s, 217 laps led
How 2021 ended:
While Harvick ultimately finished fifth in the final standings, that’s one heck of a rebound after entering the postseason with zero playoff points and going the balance of said playoffs without earning one. He failed to advance past the Round of 12, as Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval drama involving Chase Elliott left him crashed into the Turn 1 wall.
After finishes of ninth and eighth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, respectively, Harvick was in position to advance with a solid run at the Roval. On Lap 56, Harvick sent Elliott into the wall, retaliation from their Bristol Motor Speedway run-in weeks prior, and was suddenly in a good spot to advance. But on Lap 100, Harvick careened into the Turn 1 wall as Elliott approached behind him while running inside the top 10, ending his afternoon and chances of advancing to the next round.
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The Bristol playoff event marked Harvick’s second runner-up finish of the season, but the closest opportunity to a race victory he’d get all year.
Just past the halfway point, Harvick took the lead for the first time (only his seventh race to that point up front in 2021). But in the final 100 laps, Elliott had the top spot, and Harvick wanted it. The No. 4 drove it in deep, slid up and brushed the No. 9, cutting Elliott’s tire from the lead, forcing him to pit road. Harvick then paced the field for the subsequent 32 laps.
Until Elliott, who was multiple laps down from pitting under green, planted his Chevrolet in front of Harvick on the high side for multiple laps, slowing his momentum as Harvick tried to drive away from Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson in second. With four laps remaining, Larson passed Harvick for the lead and went on to win his sixth race of the season.
Harvick confronted Elliott post-race on pit road and in the garage area. And despite the second-place result, the 2014 series champion called his emotions post-Bristol “probably the maddest (he’s) ever been” over the course of his 21-year career in NASCAR.
Other season highlights:
• Harvick didn’t finish worse than 15th at Talladega and Daytona International Speedway and scored three top-10 results, marking his best average finish on superspeedways (7.75) since the 2015 season (7.25).
• Despite an early playoff exit, Harvick nabbed top 10s in eight of the 10 postseason races.
Stat to know:
Harvick, who won nine times in 2020 and none in 2021, became the second driver in the modern era to win eight-plus races one season and go winless the next, joining Carl Edwards, who won nine times in 2008 and not once in 2009. Bill Elliott also had a nine-win drop off back in the mid 1980s, going from 11 victories in 1985 to only two in 1986.
By virtue of finishing fifth in the final standings, the Bakersfield, California, native also became the first driver in this playoff format of playoff points (since 2017) to start 15th or 16th, accumulate zero playoff points (via stage wins and race wins) over the course of all 36 races and finish top five in the standings.
“Just chickens***. I mean, what else do you say? Throw a temper tantrum like you’re 2 years old because you got passed for the lead and got a flat tire. We barely even rubbed. It’s all Chase’s way or it’s no way, and if he doesn’t get his way, then he throws a fit […] I told him I wanted to rip his freaking head off.” – Harvick said of Elliott after Bristol
In a recent Dale Jr. Download podcast, Harvick revealed 2021 was originally scheduled to be his final season in the Cup Series. But with two years remaining on his contract with Stewart-Haas Racing, the future Hall of Famer has all intentions of remaining in the No. 4 seat through 2023.
New sponsors such as Subway and GearWrench have signed on with Harvick and SHR for next year and beyond, giving him an extra security blanket as he and crew chief Rodney Childers look to navigate the uncharted territory of the Next Gen car.
With back-to-back Sunoco Rookies of the Year Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe in the fold along with Aric Almirola, Harvick remains the savvy veteran at the organization and will for the duration of his Cup Series career. Sitting 10th on the all-time wins list with 58 Cup Series victories, Harvick seems poised to add to that number and perhaps even add another championship to his already impressive resume.