Kevin Harvick heads to Homestead for a chance at a second championship

Kevin Harvick will be battling for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the third time in the last four years.

In a season where Toyota drivers, young guns and a retiring superstar have stole the headlines, Kevin Harvick has flown under the radar.

Coming into the season, Stewart-Haas Racing’s switch from Chevrolet to Ford was one of the top stories in NASCAR. But as the season progressed and other storylines unfolded, the SHR switch to Ford took a back seat.

For Harvick and his SHR team, led by crew chief Rodney Childers, they worked through some growing pains and now find themselves with another chance at a championship.

“It means a lot, especially this year, switching everything from our manufacturer to Ford, and just seeing the steady climb of performance and peaking as the playoffs started,” said Harvick after his win at Texas.

For the playoffs, Harvick’s on-track results have been noticeably different than the regular season.

“I feel like when you can be on offense, you can be aggressive, you can do a lot more things than you can when you’re back pedaling, trying to capitalize on somebody else’s mistake,” said Harvick.

Harvick is taking that same mentality to Homestead where he will try to win his second championship in the past four years.

“Homestead has been a great racetrack for us through the years, and hopefully we can go down there and contend,” said Harvick.

“I think as a company we know what we went through and kind of playing on house money at this point, so we’re going to go down there and wing it, see what happens.”

Kevin Harvick during practice for the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway. World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP.

During the offseason, Stewart-Haas Racing switched from Chevrolet to Ford. The decision was made at the beginning of the 2016 season but the real effects of the change wouldn’t be known until the 2017 season started.

“I don’t know that even if we didn’t have the manufacture change, we still wouldn’t have maybe struggled a little bit to try to find the equation,” said Tony Stewart, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

“Even we said it was a big risk. At the same time when we were looking and assessing whether it was the right thing to do, we said there’s huge opportunities to be big rewards with it as well.”

The switch seemed to play immediate dividends with Kurt Busch winning the Daytona 500 and Harvick starting on the pole in two of the first seven races. But the second win occurred in June at Sonoma and the next win was just two weeks ago at Texas.

Earning a spot in the championship round and a shot at a title in the first year with Ford, could go a long way after a year of growing pains.

“Not necessarily so much that it’s validation, just that when you feel like you’re working with people that you’re a family with, you want to make sure you get them results, too,” said Stewart.

“I’m really excited about the program we’re on, working with the people we’re working with at Ford.  Looking forward to seeing what we can do (at Homestead) and hopefully getting them another championship.”

Kevin Harvick during practice for the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway. World Copyright: Nigel Kinrade, NKP.

In 2014 Kevin Harvick was the favorite to win the title in the new format. He entered Homestead with three wins on the season with his brand new team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

In 2015 when he returned to the Homestead with a chance at back-to-back championships, he had a bullseye on this back.

This year Harvick enters the season finale as the underdog, a role he relishes.

“Three of us have won championships, and Martin has won a lot of races this year,” said Harvick.

“The pressure is really on the 78 and the 18.  Those guys have dominated the year, and I feel like if they don’t win at this point, they would probably feel like they’ve had a letdown.

“It’s a lot of fun coming from behind and playing catch-up and kind of playing that underdog role is much easier than being expected to go down there and win.  We expect to win.”

Follow Matt on Twitter, @mattlovisa.

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