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Kevin Harvick tries to end NASCAR winless drought at New Hampshire race postponed by rain

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Kevin Harvick tries to end NASCAR winless drought at New Hampshire race postponed by rain
July 16, 2023
The Los Angeles Post - AP

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Kevin Harvick has one final chance to set the record for most career wins by a Cup driver at New Hampshire. Take the checkered flag, and Harvick would take home the roughly 20-pound lobster awarded to the winner — his young son once kissed the crustacean in victory lane and also playfully chased a family friend with the claw.

But Harvick might have to surrender his musket.

Harvick was the recipient of the curly ash wood, custom-designed handmade musket at the track as a final thank-you from the track for all his success before he retires from NASCAR at the end of the season.

The inscription on the silver plaque reads in part: “Kevin Harvick. 4X NHMS Winner.”

He’d like to make it five and edit the engraving. Harvick has plenty at stake in Monday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — heavy rain wiped out Sunday’s scheduled start — where he can not only snap a tie with Jeff Burton for the most wins at the Magic Mile, he can, of most importance, end a 31-race winless streak and earn an automatic spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.

“For the most part, we’ve been competitive,” Harvick said. “We’ve had a couple of chances to win races, and it just hadn’t all come together to be able to get to victory lane.”

The 47-year-old Harvick had long been one of NASCAR’s most consistent, big winners. There was the 2007 Daytona 500 championship driving for Richard Childress Racing and the 2014 NASCAR Cup championship driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. He won eight times in 2018 and nine times in 2020 before the good times suddenly dried up. Harvick went winless in 2021 and is 0 for 19 so far in his final season of a 23-year career.

Harvick built a reputation as NASCAR’s version of a Major League Baseball Game 7 closer. He won in 2014 at Phoenix when he needed a victory to advance to the championship race. Harvick then won the finale and the championship at Homestead. Needing a victory to advance in a win-or-else race in the 2016 playoffs, Harvick delivered in the clutch at New Hampshire and made the next round.

With seven races left before the 16-driver playoff field is set, Harvick would currently make the playoffs on points. The 11 drivers ahead of him in the standings are all 2023 race winners — topped by William Byron’s four — and a solid start to open the season has given Harvick a 126-point cushion on the cutline. But a couple of surprise winners over the final summer races would certainly squeeze the standings and amp up the pressure on Harvick to take a checkered flag.

Bring it on.

“For us, it doesn’t really change because in 2015, we just decided to race every week like it was a playoff week,” Harvick said. “If you have to switch gears, you’re in big trouble. It’s a different way to race.”

Harvick is lumbering into New Hampshire on a cold streak, with finishes in the No. 4 Ford of 24th, 29th and 30th over his last three races.

Some of the winless drought — his last victory came Aug. 22, 2022, at Richmond — is just part of the game for an aging driver. Richard Petty won his 200th race in 1984 and never again over his final eight seasons. Jimmie Johnson won his 83rd career race in the middle of the 2017 season, the last of his full-time career that ended in 2020.

The rest of the slump could be blamed on the overall woes at SHR. Harvick, who will be replaced next season by Josh Berry, is easily the best of the bunch. Ryan Preece is 25th in the standings, Aric Almirola is 27th and Chase Briscoe is 31st. SHR made a flurry of organizational changes to its crew chief lineup in June, but there has been no immediate sign of improvements.

Let someone else worry about SHR next season.

Harvick may be calling it quits on his NASCAR career, but the driver once tabbed to replace Dale Earnhardt just days following his death in the 2001 Daytona 500 has plenty on his to-do list in racing retirement.

Harvick will join Mike Joy and Clint Bowyer in the broadcast booth next year for the Fox Sports portion of NASCAR television coverage. He will turn his attention to Kevin Harvick Inc., his growing management company, as well as other business ventures. And he can spend more time at the track — only in support of his young son and daughter, both blossoming racers.

Harvick might not have much time to get comfortable in the rocking chair gifted to him by friend and country music star Jake Owen.

“I want to be full of energy and do things in a different way,” Harvick said. “I’ve learned, and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. warned me of this, that I would be busier when I got out of the car than I was in the car. Because in the car, I already had an excuse to not do things. Out of the car, you have no excuse to not do anything.”

But if he can do at least one more thing before he hangs up the helmet, Harvick would like to get that 61st win.

IT'S RAINING AGAIN

Monday's race will start at noon at the Magic Mile. This is the third race this season postponed because of rain, joining Dover and the Coca-Cola 600.

Joe Gibbs Racing swept the front row at New Hampshire on Saturday with Christopher Bell on the pole followed by Martin Truex Jr. Bell won last season’s race at New Hampshire.

This is also the third straight race affected by weather. William Byron won last week at Atlanta in a race sliced by 75 laps because of rain. Shane van Gisbergen won his NASCAR Cup Series debut at Chicago in a race called early because of fading sunlight.

___

AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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