By Jared Turner
As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California for Race No. 5 of the 2015 season, one question is at the top of everyone’s minds: Can anyone beat Kevin Harvick?
Over the past two weekends, the reigning champion and Stewart-Haas Racing team led by crew chief Rodney Childers have overwhelmed the competition on the way to victories at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
What’s really scary is that with his triumph on Sunday at PIR, Harvick became first driver to finish in the top two in seven consecutive races since NASCAR Hall of Famer and seven-time champion Richard Petty accomplished the feat 1975.
“The Richard Petty part, that gives me chills,” Harvick said after leading 224 of 312 laps at PIR, where he is a perfect 3-for-3 since joining SHR. “I’m just really proud of everybody at Stewart‑Haas for everything they do. Really proud of Rodney and these guys on this team. I feel like we get better as we go through different situations. You see these guys hang out together, how mellow everybody is, how everybody gets along. It’s really, really special to be a part of.”
Now, Harvick heads to a track where won in 2011 but has actually been quite mediocre over the course of his career. In 21 starts at the 2-mile Fontana oval, Harvick has just four top five finishes, and nine top 10s.
The Bakersfield, California native’s average finish at ACS is 16.4 – not terrible but not exactly setting the woods on fire, either.
So does this weekend’s trip to the Golden State represent a gold opportunity for someone else to reach Victory Lane?
Maybe so, but based on everything that has happened so far this season – and late last season – Harvick has to be considered the favorite.
“I think at this point everybody just expects you to keep winning,” said Childers. “That’s what makes it hard on all of us. Yeah, I feel like we’ve got a team that can do that. We have a driver that can do that. We have the resources to do that. The more you win, the more you expect out of yourself and the more pressure you put on yourself.
“When we left Vegas last week, he made a point to say, ‘I want to win all three of these West Coast races.’ I think anybody that knows Kevin Harvick, if he puts his head to something, he’s going to try to make it happen. These races mean a lot to him. He grew up around here, has a lot of family around here. That’s our goal, for sure.”
Already locked in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup by virtue of their two wins, Harvick and the No. 4 bunch have the built-in advantage of being able to aggressively pursue wins and roll the dice with literally nothing to lose.
For a driver and team already red hot, the combination of fast cars and the freedom to push the limits doesn’t bode well for the competition.
Harvick, however, is guarding against overconfidence.
“I think as you go to the next race, you go to California, it’s nothing like what we’ve done here, nothing really like what we did at California,” he said. “You just have to forget about what you did.
“These guys are really good at just, you know, being happy about what we did last week, not talking about anything other than what we’re going to do at California next week, how we prepare for that, not taking your eye off the prize, staying focused on what we need to do for California, the past history, the things that have happened there over time.”