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CONCORD, N.C. -- Two wins in nine starts haven't altered the way Kevin Harvick races, but the Stewart-Haas Racing driver admits he finds himself in a "unique" position these days.
"Just because with the way things have gone," Harvick, 38, said Tuesday during an appearance at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "You didn't really know how they would go."
As competitive as he had been in the previous seasons, early success in a completely new environment with a new team has been a pleasant surprise. Now, he said, "you expect to go to the track and race for a win every week. That's a unique mindset."
Racing for wins and championships isn't exactly foreign to Harvick, who is in his 14th season at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level. When he packed up and departed Richard Childress Racing at the close of the 2013 season, he left with 23 career victories, three third-place points finishes in the last four seasons and a healthy dose of respect from his peers in the garage.
"I didn't change teams to get worse," he said. "I went in with the intention of being competitive.
" ? You put everything together with the intention of trying to improve upon your situation in the past. I think so far it's gone really well. Every week it's a constant evaluation of parts and pieces, people, (and) situations. We're still gathering notes just like we were at Richmond this (past) weekend for the first time as a group ? with the new rules.
"We've been fortunate to have fast cars pretty much every week. We missed it a little bit last week, but that's probably the first time we've been off."
That he heads to Talladega Superspeedway, site of Sunday's Aaron's 499, 20th in points says more about the early growing pains of a new team than the team's abilities. Sandwiched around four finishes outside the top 35 this year were wins at Phoenix and Darlington. Last week at Richmond, where Harvick said the team "missed it a little bit," he still managed an 11th-place finish.
Give Harvick a fast car and he'll get it to the front. Give him one of the fastest and chances are he'll keep it there.
NASCAR's season is a long one, and it's full of wild swings of fortune -- this week's winner can find himself first on the sidelines barely a week later. Some drivers struggle to find a measure of success when changing teams. Others catch lightning in a bottle much sooner -- as was the case of Matt Kenseth, a seven-race winner in 2013 in his debut season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Harvick has already shown that he and his No. 4 team can win. They have shown that they can be fast every week. And that's the major difference this year for the Bakersfield, California native.
"In the past, (it was) 'Well we hadn't run good here,' " he said. "Well, we haven't been to most of these places (with SHR) as a team ever. We're approaching all these race tracks for the first time and everywhere we've been they've done a great job in either bringing a fast car or making a slow car into a fast car by the end of the weekend. They've done a good job. I think we can go to any type of race track and be competitive and contend for wins."
It's rare that a driver is considered a contender each week as the series moves through the diverse assortment of track layouts. Some shine on the mile-and-a-half tracks, others have stronger short-track or restrictor-plate programs. But only a few are seen as legitimate threats to contend for the win each and every week.
Jeff Gordon, the four-time champion, knows the feeling. So, too, does three-time champ Tony Stewart. And Jimmie Johnson? The Hendrick Motorsports driver, along with his No. 48 team, practically re-wrote the book on sustaining excellence while en route to six championships.
Harvick has visited the territory before. He appears ready to take up residence there now.
Can Harvick and his team maintain their early-season charge? Or will a fast start be forgotten months from now?
That's yet to be determined. But to maintain something, you first have to achieve it. After nine races, Harvick has clearly accomplished that.
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