Sean Gardner | Getty Images
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

As Dover enters Next Gen era, Kevin Harvick aims to keep clicking at Monster Mile

The last time Kevin Harvick won a stage in the NASCAR Cup Series was at Dover Motor Speedway … in 2020. That’s a lofty 58 races since the No. 4 car has earned a playoff point.

That weekend continued Harvick’s recent surge of success at the Monster Mile, who picked up his first win on the concrete race track in 2015. On that afternoon, in a must-win situation to advance to the Round of 12 in the playoffs, the No. 4 car soared from 15th to lead 355 of 400 laps.

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Since the 2015 win, Harvick has visited Victory Lane two more times at Dover, and he heads into the Monster Mile for Sunday’s DuraMAX Drydene 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) with seven consecutive finishes of sixth or better at the track. In that time frame, he’s led 200-plus laps on three separate occasions.

“It took a long time to click, I know that for sure,” Harvick told NASCAR.com of his success at Dover. “When I came to SHR, Rodney [Childers, crew chief] knew that was a struggle for me and put a lot of effort into that and took that into winning races and running up front.

“As we’ve gone to Dover through the years, it’s definitely been a fun place to go.”

Of course, Harvick says he wishes NASCAR still took to Dover twice in a season. But this year will have a whole new dynamic.

Many drivers consider this weekend’s race at Dover to be the last true test for the Next Gen car. It’s competed on two superspeedways, another pack-style race at Atlanta, a couple of intermediates, two short tracks and a dirt track, but now has a whole new challenge in the Monster Mile.

Unique to Dover, it has significant elevation change going down into the corners and when exiting the corners with 24 degrees of banking. In the past, it’s been referred to as a roller coaster.

Harvick was quick to point out that teams won’t truly know what they have with the Next Gen car until practice on Saturday.

“I don’t anticipate the actual characteristics of Dover being any different than what they’ve been in the past,” Harvick added. “But I do think it will be somewhat different inside of the car with how you achieve that and put the car in the right spot.

“It’s been different at all the race tracks that we’ve gone to. But in the end, it’s also been a lot of the same, as far as where you want to place the car and things like that.”

Through 10 races this season, Harvick sits 11th in the championship standings, and he is coming off a 10th-place finish at Talladega. And though he’s led just 12 laps on the season – 11 of which came in one swoop at Atlanta – the No. 4 team is maximizing many of its performances thus far in 2022.

“With everything that we’ve had going on, I’m pretty happy with the results that we’ve been able to achieve because we’ve had so many things go wrong,” Harvick added. “Whether it be crashes, pit road, you name it and we’ve had to deal with it. I think the performance of the car has been relatively good from the standpoint and my comfort in the car. We just have to keep plugging away and clean up the things that are going wrong each week and progress from that.”

Changing over to the Next Gen car, Harvick said his team was mentally prepared to clean up miscues. He just didn’t think the team would have so many issues in the first two months of the season.

At the same time, the 2014 champion “didn’t really have any expectations” going into the season because he didn’t want to have to worry about anything additional than honing in on the development of the Next Gen car. He just wants to race.

And though Harvick is on a 53-race winless streak, the goal hasn’t changed.

“Put yourself in the top five, try to win races and put yourself in position to win races,” he said. “I think from the performance side, we have the capability to do that. We just have to have clean days.”

As the season progresses and already eight playoff spots potentially filled, Harvick’s outlook hasn’t changed, even with three first-time winners. His methodical approach will continue on the “week-to-week grind,” forgetting about the issues that have occurred.

“You see things, feel things and you apply those things and move forward and the car continues to get better week after week.”