Harvick hoping to spoil Johnson-Hamlin duel
Kevin Harvick is aware of the history the two drivers ahead of him in the Sprint Cup standings have at Martinsville Speedway — and he’s refusing to be intimidated by it.
Harvick is not conceding anything to four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson or Denny Hamlin with five races left in the season. Harvick is third in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship standings, 77 behind Johnson and 36 adrift of Hamlin.
“I think it has a spoiler feel to it,” Harvick said Friday when asked if Sunday’s race has a showdown feel to it. “We’ll spoil the 1-2 showdown this weekend, hopefully.”
He’ll have to overcome some past performances to do it.
Harvick hasn’t won in 18 career starts at 0.526-mile Martinsville, the smallest and trickiest track to navigate in stock car racing’s premier series, while Johnson has won six times and Hamlin three. Johnson and Hamlin have won the last eight races here.
But some help is on the way for Harvick.
Plagued by pit road troubles this season, Harvick and Richard Childress Racing teammate Clint Bowyer are swapping pit crews for this race, and as long as Harvick is in contention.
For Bowyer, agreeing to the swap was being a team player.
“There is no question that my team is arguably the best team at RCR,” Bowyer said of his over-the-wall gang. “They’ve been together the longest. With us being out of the championship deal, Kevin is the last shot at RCR at basically bringing a championship home.”
The way Harvick sees it, everything is possible in what has been a good season. His three victories are his most since 2006, and he’s been near the top of the standings all year.
“Obviously those guys have got the results to back it up, but we’ve gone from the beginning of the Chase and overachieved on everything that we’ve done,” Harvick said.
“If we hit a home run this weekend, we hit a home run. If we don’t, there is no reason to worry about trying to force anything. I feel like we need to win a race in the next five to make it happen, but when you start forcing things to happen, you wind up with a 35th and then you’ll be done. To be in the game, you have to be close enough to be a part of the game.”
The last four races are at Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami.
“I think they’re good tracks for us,” he said, including Martinsville. “We got through Charlotte and Dover without any major disaster, so I’m looking forward to the next five.”
Of course, so is Johnson, who said each title he’s won has made the next easier.
“There are probably some other emotions that are wrapped up into it that all lead to the fact that I am much more relaxed fighting for this championship than any other championship in my life,” Johnson said. “So experience really helps out a lot and I have enjoyed these last five races more than I did the last year and the year before and so on.”
It’s an enjoyment level Harvick is hoping to begin experiencing on Sunday.