By: John Singler on December 13, 2016 | 9:13 A.M. EST
“We were competitive from Week 1.” (Photo: Getty Images)
For much of the 2016 regular season, Kevin Harvick sat atop the Sprint Cup Series point standings.
But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver could not sustain that consistency in the post-season Chase and was eliminated from title contention in the semifinal round, finishing eighth in the final championship standings.
“We were competitive from Week 1,” Harvick said of the 2016 season, which was SHR’s last in the Chevrolet stable. The organization will run Fords in 2017.
Competitive, indeed. Harvick opened the year with three straight top-10 finishes then went to Phoenix International Raceway and dominated. He led nearly half the race to notch the first of his two regular-season wins and ascend to the top of the point standings – a perch he would occupy regularly over the next six months.
“Our main focus was on us, not worrying about what everyone else was doing,” Harvick said. “Our team did a good job of being competitive at all different styles of tracks.”
His fast start to the season included fourth place on the 2.5-mile superspeedway at Daytona, top 10s on mile-and-a-half ovals in Atlanta and Las Vegas, and then the victory on Phoenix’s flat one-mile oval.
Harvick further illustrated his team’s versatility by notching his second victory of the season in late summer on the high-speed half-mile in Bristol, Tenn., and seemed to carry a lot of momentum into the Chase.
“Our main focus is to keep doing what we’ve done for 26 weeks,” Harvick said on the eve of the 10-race title series. “We were way good for 26 weeks and there’s no reason we can’t do it for 10 more.”
He entered the post-season as the No. 4 seed on the 16-man Chase Grid – behind only Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. And it didn’t take long for Harvick to find his way back to Victory Lane.
He was masterful on the day’s final restart at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, roaring past race leader Matt Kenseth to claim victory in the second race of the post-season and advance to the Round of 12.
Harvick started 19th and led just eight laps all afternoon. But after dispatching Kenseth on the decisive restart, he kept the No. 4 Chevrolet in front over the final six circuits to re-establish his nickname as “The Closer.”
In the next round, Harvick once again pounced in the second race – leading 74 laps to claim victory at Kansas Speedway and punch his ticket into the Chase semifinals.
But the Round of 8 proved to be Harvick’s undoing. He dug himself a big hole with a 20th-place finish at Martinsville Speedway. Sixth place at Texas still left the 2014 champion looking at a must-win situation the following week at Phoenix – where he had won for the eighth time earlier in the season.
However, a ninth victory in the desert was not to be for Harvick, who settled for fourth place and exited the title hunt. Seven days later, Harvick closed his season with a third-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
In addition to his four wins in 2016, Harvick notched 13 other top-five finishes and won the pole for the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Motor Racing Network continues our look at the 16 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in 2016 tomorrow with a look at the seventh-place driver, Kurt Busch.
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