Ford unveiled the Mustang its NASCAR Cup Series teams will drive in next season on Thursday in Dearborn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, who has won six races in a Ford Fusion this year, expects his team will adapt to the change.
The signs that he already has entered the playoff zone could be seen front and center all weekend, not to mention out in front of a field of 40 cars Sunday:
He skipped the NASCAR drivers council meeting Friday night.
He looks forward to the off-week in a couple weeks as his intensity already has ratcheted.
And he won by 3.2 seconds Sunday on the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval, leading 108 of the 200 laps of the Consumers Energy 400.
“The whole summer has just been stressful,” Harvick said Sunday night. “There’s just so many politics and so many things happening in the sport right now. You want to focus.
“For me, this was really important because I felt like this was the first week back of being 100 percent focused on the racing and my team and being selfish on focusing on those things and not worrying about all the other stuff that’s going on with the sport. That’s the way we’re going to approach it, and it’s going good right now from a mental state of mind.”
In other words, don’t ask Harvick about the 2019 rules package and the potential of having a drafting package that he despises. If he isn’t going to a drivers council meeting to talk about that, then he certainly isn’t going to discuss it and get angry about it with anyone else. He won’t worry about
the arrest of Brian France earlier in the week or who will run NASCAR over the final few months of the 2018 season.
This attitude is nothing new. But the selfish mode for Harvick typically appears once the playoffs begin, and instead it’s showing with three races still left in the regular season.
It is probably a little bit of a stretch with 12 more races until the championship event to actually declare the 2018 playoffs as Harvick’s championship to lose.
But performances and attitudes such as the one on display Sunday show that seven race victories this year make him a championship favorite.
“You’ve seen these playoffs and how these three-weeks-at-a-time work,” Harvick said about the playoff system that is broken into three three-race rounds heading into a championship race at Homestead. “That’s why, in my opinion, it’s so important to have the bonus points and everything that goes with it.
Kevin Harvick held off Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the field at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. Sean Gardner/Getty Images
“Homestead is such a unique race track. But you’ve got to get there first. As much as everybody thought
Kyle Larson was a lock [last year], he had two bad races with all those bonus points that they had last year, and next thing you know, he’s out. You never know what’s going to happen, and we go in one week at a time trying to focus on the things we need to focus on.”
The focus was obviously there Sunday.
Brad Keselowski, who hasn’t won all year, finished second more than three seconds back. Kyle Busch, with six wins this year, was 4.1 seconds behind. Only two others — Austin Dillon (5.7 seconds back) and Ryan Blaney (8.9 seconds) — were within 12 seconds of Harvick in a race where the final 57 laps went caution-free.
Considering the track doesn’t rank among the best for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch won’t read too much into it.
“It definitely seemed like whoever got out front just could kind of take off, and if you were the fastest car like the 4 [of Harvick] was, there was nobody that was going to be able to come close to you and do anything with you,” Busch said.
“There were some moments there that last run once it got strung out, everybody was eight lengths apart, eight lengths apart. … You were just at an air deficit from being able to get air on your car from the car in front of you and just lacking grip, so you just weren’t able to make up time.”
Keselowski left both encouraged and deflated, having shown improvement but not much in the sight of Harvick.
“We’re going to have to deliver and make results and win races, and I think that’s what the sport is about at the end of the day,” Keselowski said. “It’s easy to say, harder to do. … There’s positives and negatives from today.
“And so you’ve got to try to make the most of the positives and learn from the negatives.”
The only negative for Harvick was a pit crew still a little inconsistent, but that didn’t impact the race. Harvick drove a car that had not seen the track since Michigan last June in a race where Harvick once again had the best car but teammate
Clint Bowyer won on fuel mileage.
Rodney Childers didn’t decide to use the car again at Michigan because of its last performance at the track. He creates a car schedule in January, and the rotation and rebuilds are set. He doesn’t deviate.
“Trying to run the same car over and over again without making it better, you’re not going to win races,” Childers said. “I almost shed a tear the other day — we got back from Pocono after having a car that was completely dominant, and I walked by the tear down area and it was nothing but a chassis with no body on it.”
Most crew chiefs adjust their plans depending on how well a car performs. Childers, like his driver, doesn’t allow something to change what he feels is right.
“They’re pieces of metal, and what you do to them is what makes them go fast,” Childers said. “You know, sometimes you may want to go over there and pet one and be nice to it and hope that it’ll be nice to you, but it’s really about just executing at the shop and at the race track and doing things right.”
In other words: Focus, don’t beat yourself and don’t let all the chatter in the garage keep anyone from doing their jobs.
So if Harvick has a drivers council meeting he’s supposed to go to but would rather hang with his 6-year-old son, he’s going to do that.
“We watched football Friday,” Harvick said. “We were probably playing baseball or something on the PlayStation.”
And then Harvick said something about playing with his 6-year-old son that shows he’s totally focused, that he has that game attitude.
“I smoked him.”
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