CP MOTORSPORTS – HARVICK FAVORED TO DEFEND NASCAR TITLE
The favorite tag in sports usually carries a high degree of pressure, but defending Sprint Cup series champion
Kevin Harvick embraces the role entering Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“It makes you feel good about the way that the team has run and the things that we have done,” said Harvick during in a Thursday teleconference. “We're a confident group amongst ourselves, but you also have to be respectful because you definitely don't want to get run over by the karma train by spouting too many things off.”
In addition to Harvick, the Championship Four group of drivers includes the sentimental favorite in four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, the low-key Martin Truex Jr., and the flashy Kyle Busch.
Harvick won five races last season en route to his first series championship.
With battle-tested crew chief and former Late Model racer Rodney Childers calling the shots atop the pit box again this season, Harvick has earned three more wins along with 22 top-five finishes.
That sort of consistency is why Harvick is favored to claim the gold Sunday in South Florida and can become the 11th driver to claim back-to-back Sprint Cup titles.
“It's definitely flattering, but in the end, you’ve still got to run the race, and there's other teams that have run well,” Harvick said. “I think as you look at the situation, obviously there's a lot of things that we’ve been a part of and done well in the past, but now you've got to do them again.”
In 14 career starts on the 1.5-mile Homestead oval, Harvick has recorded one win along with six top-five and 12 top-10s. That stat line, which features an average finish of 7.6, is the best for all active drivers at Homestead.
Truex ranks third at Homestead with an average finish of 10.0, while Gordon follows in fourth at 10.6. Busch has an average finish of 23.1 at Homestead, his worst number for all tracks.
According to Harvick, the best strategy for Sunday is to simply charge toward the front.
“I think that's definitely the way that you have to approach this race,” he said. After last year you see all four cars, one, two, three, four at certain points in that race. Jeff [Gordon] led a lot of this race last year and ran really well, and I just believe that you're probably going to have to win the race to win the championship again.”
Other storylines Sunday involve Truex and the health struggles of his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, the improbable comeback of Busch from a broken foot and leg in the season-opening Xfinity Series race at Daytona, and the ride into the Miami sunset for Gordon after a glorious 24-year run at the top level of NASCAR.
Harvick knows the many members of the NASCAR family will be cheering for a Hollywood-esque ending for Gordon’s Sprint Cup career. It’s up to Harvick spoil that scenario.
“Sure, I want to go out and win the championship and win the race, but you know, in the end, this is a pretty big moment for our sport,” Harvick said.” This is a moment where it's about the championship, but it's also paying respect to what is going to be [Gordon’s] last race and a pretty cool moment. Whether he wins or loses, the way the year has gone for him has been pretty neat.
“I mean, for me it's an honor. Forever you'll be a part of Jeff Gordon's last race in some way, shape or form I’m going to approach it as still wanting to win the race, but you also want to be very respectful to what is one of the legends of our sport.”