KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick learned the importance of survival when not having the best car early in his racing career, whether it was in go-karts as a kid or late models in the long-defunct NASCAR Southwest Tour in the early 1990s.
“My first year in late models,” Harvick said, “I think I only got to run seven races because I wrecked the car every time we went out to the racetrack, and it took us a month to fix it because we couldn’t just go out and buy the parts and put it all together. We had to fix everything. That was something that just became ingrained in my head.”
The moral of the story?
“When you have a 15th-place car, and you can finish 10th with it,” Harvick explained, “that’s a victory.”
It’s not as sweet as a real win, though. And heading to Kansas Speedway this weekend, the former NASCAR Cup Series champion has yet to reach victory lane, even though it seems as if just about everybody else has. Brad Keselowski made it nine winners through the first 10 races last weekend at Talladega with an overtime pass for the victory.
“It’s not a position we haven’t been in before,” said Harvick, whose three Kansas wins are tied for most in history. “It’s a big science project, I can say that for sure. There are a lot of engineers on a lot of computers burning the midnight oil trying to make sure we start making some headway and getting our cars back to where we need them.”
He’s not alone as the series heads to the Heartland.
Denny Hamlin, another three-time winner at Kansas, has eight top-five finishes in the opening 10 races but has yet to reach victory lane. He has won two of the past three races at the mile-and-a-half oval, including the “spring” race last season that was pushed to late July because of the pandemic.
It’s not that Harvick and Hamlin haven’t been fast They just haven’t led the lap that matters the most.
“I mean, there’s frustration, for sure. But it doesn’t change my attitude or work ethic,” Hamlin said after a second-place finish at Richmond a couple weeks ago. “I’m going to work just as hard to win next week and the week after that.”
Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott also hope to turn their success at Kansas into a long-awaited win.
Busch has more wins (six across all series) in the 20-year history of the track than any other driver, and series champion Elliott won the 2018 playoff race at Kansas and has six top-10s there in 10 career starts.