Look Beyond the Wins: Harvick Is Best

By Jerry Bonkowski

When you have been in the sports writing business for as long as I have, you learn to have thick skin. Especially when it comes to readers and their often misguided judgment and resulting comments.

While I will never deny a person’s opinion, their logic – or oftentimes lack of – is a whole different story.

So following Sunday’s race at Atlanta, I wrote a story about how Kevin Harvick remains the hottest driver in the Sprint Cup Series.

Of course, several readers quickly wrote in or tweeted that I was off my rocker.

“And how many wins does Harvick have this year?” was one response.

(Fair question. More to come in a moment).

“Yeah, he’s the hottest, alright. He’s so hot that even with fnishing second at Atlanta, he dropped to third in the standings.”

(Uh yeah, sure, that’s TECHNICALLY right – but Harvick is all of two points behind series leader Joey Logano and one point behind Atlanta winner Jimmie Johnson. Yep, that’s a BIG difference and a huge points gap, right?)

Then came the piece de resistance – or for those of you who don’t know French, the topper of all toppers.

“This is this year. Last year doesn’t count.”

(WHAAAAATTTTT? Last year doesn’t count? Oh ye of small mind.)

Last year most certainly counts, especially the end of the 2014 season. Not only did Harvick win the Sprint Cup championship, he won two of the season’s last three races and fnished second in the third.

Add in his back-to-back runner-up fnishes to start 2015, and there is no way anyone can say Harvick still isn’t the hottest driver in Sprint Cup – even if he hasn’t won yet this season.

The common thread among all those tweets or emails is misguided fans – or those who want to twist facts – simply because they may not like a driver.

And even though he is a champion now, Happy Harvick sadly still has his detractors – I call them Harvick Haters or Happy Haters – despite the fact he won one of the tightest and arguably the most competitive and dramatic Chases in its 11-year history.

Even though he hasn’t visited Victory Lane yet in 2015, there’s no question Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers and the rest of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet team has indeed picked up right where it left off last season.

How can anyone say otherwise, when not only do the numbers support Harvick’s performance, but he also continues to have arguably the fastest, strongest, most competitive and consistent race car on the circuit.

He would have started Sunday’s race on the outside pole had it not been for the engine in his car blowing up during Saturday’s fnal practice.

Still, even with a new motor under the hood and starting at the back of the pack for Sunday’s race, Harvick was not to be deterred.

“I’m not worried,” Harvick said before the race. “I think we still have a good shot and think we can get to the front.”

Indeed, Harvick did get to the front – and he stayed there for 116 laps, tops among all drivers in the 325-lap race. Had it not been for poor restarts following the last two cautions, Harvick could have made the end result of Sunday’s race completely different.

Even though Harvick wound up being nearly two seconds behind Jimmie Johnson at the fnish line, without those poor restarts, the fnal outcome could have been markedly different.

Last Sunday, Harvick came up short because a caution came out on the fnal lap, guaranteeing Joey Logano the win and halting a potential Harvick rally on the fnal pass down the frontstretch.

Do you see the similarity here? If it wasn’t for a slip here or a shortcoming there, Harvick coulda, shoulda and likely woulda won the frst two races of 2015.

Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights that second is the frst loser. I disagree, at least when it comes to Harvick in the frst two races of 2015, he’s not been the frst loser. Rather, I prefer to call him the next-best winner in each race.

Jerry Bonkowski writes for NASCAR Talk atNBCSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.