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The elimination-style nature of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is intended to tighten the screws on even the most unflappable race teams, with the ever-lurking possibility that title eligibility can be gone in the blink of a three-race set.
Kevin Harvick insists that postseason pressure hasn’t gotten to him or his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, a veteran group at its core, ahead of Sunday’s latest elimination event — the Bank of America Roval 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM). Harvick enters Charlotte Motor Speedway’s annual road-course challenge squarely on the bubble, sitting nine points back of the elimination line.
“The ins and outs of the day-to-day stress of playoff stuff doesn’t really … I mean, I’ve done it for so long that it’s just part of what you do,” Harvick says, “and you try to race the same way all year and not really say, ‘OK, playoffs have started. Let’s change what we’re doing it at this particular point and try to go in a different direction,’ because that kind of messes up the rhythm of the things that you’re used to doing.
“So I’m kind of a creature of habit, do the same things on a weekly basis, and it’s just another race. I know that sounds cliché and boring and all the things that come with that, but you just have to go out there and do what you do the best you can and see where it falls.”
If Harvick has a reputation for not letting pressure ruffle him, he also has a rich history of advancing when needed. His lone Cup Series championship came in 2014, the first year of the elimination structure. In the years since, he’s never been bounced out before the Round of 8.
This season stands out as a particular case, with five races remaining and the real and looming threat of his first winless campaign in 12 years. Harvick said he’s certainly had tougher seasons by comparison, and the No. 4 team’s consistency has been mostly on par with his most recent years — his 21 top-10 finishes compare favorably, though his eight top fives lag below his most recent clip.
“I think from a team standpoint, we also have learned a lot about the other side of the fence, as far as having to dig your heels in and do things that you haven’t had to do,” Harvick says, “and whether you like it or not, the race is coming up next week, and you’re gonna have to participate whether your car is slow or fast and you got to figure out how to make the most out of that. So I think for us, I know we’ve had 21 or 22 top 10s and you look at the top fives and they’re not where we would want them to be, but I think when you look at the overall picture and the grind that we’ve been through this year, I think everybody’s done a good job and I think a lot of that comes from the maturity and experience of the race team and having been together so long it didn’t tear it apart.”
Harvick also insists that his team’s ability to reach this stage of the playoffs hasn’t been solely accomplished by him willing the No. 4 Ford to better results. That’s where the team aspect has come into play, led by a tightly knit over-the-wall group and some savvy from atop the pit box from crew chief Rodney Childers, who re-signed with the Stewart-Haas organization last month.
“It’s really been a group effort, and honestly the group that’s carried us the most is the pit crew,” Harvick says. “Those guys have just been on point all year and helped with gaining track position while making huge changes to the race car. It’s really been a combination of a whole bunch of things, I feel like. I’ve made a couple of mistakes in the seat, but I think overall in the car, we’ve done a good job, Rodney’s made some great pit calls, and it’s just all those things just add up. I think that the pit crew has been the shining element of our season and really helped us stay in a lot of races.”