Harvick pleased with Ford's performance, picks Penske as 500 favorites

You can call Kevin Harvick a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.

A lot of thought went into Stewart-Haas Racing’s decision to move to Ford Performance. And without Harvick’s blessing, the deal would have never flown. 

Of course there were plenty of challenges experienced by SHR in the off-season, but following dress rehearsal in the Clash last Sunday, Harvick was pleased by his first impression. 

“I think from a performance side everybody has thought that it’s gone better than it could have,” Harvick said. “It can always go better than it does on any given day. I think for the most part everybody has done a very good job. It’s a lot of work to turn a company from one manufacturer to another in two-and-a-half months. 

“Going to the race track in Phoenix and having the car on the track, there are definitely some differences with some things that we had to learn and are still learning. I think as you see those things start to have trends, those will develop the new notebook and the new trends as you go from race track to race track. 

“We had a great day in the Clash and the cars were really fast. It was just another part of the process that actually worked out well for us racing in the day because we’re not going to have a practice session day in that type of atmosphere with that many cars. The Duels are at night and you’re not going to have what we had Sunday afternoon in order to learn where we need to be for the Daytona 500.”

Harvick admits the handling was off in his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Fusion. Several drivers experienced loose conditions considering the cars were set up for night racing and the Clash was moved to Sunday due to rain. But after the team made adjustments following the first 25-laps, Harvick had command of his car. 

He played a pivotal role in assisting fellow Blue Oval campers — Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Harvick provided the necessary boost the Penske teammates needed to eventually propel Logano to Victory Lane. 

While Team Penske has enjoyed the most success at restrictor plate tracks over the last three seasons — winning six of nine races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway — Logano’s win marked the first time a Ford had won the Clash since Dale Jarrett in 2004.

Harvick points to Penske as favorites, wary of Hendrick handling

Not surprisingly, Harvick likes to align himself with winners. When asked to pick of favorite for Sunday’s Daytona 500, he singled out the Penske Fords.

“If you’re going to look at the superspeedways you have to look at the Penske cars because they’ve won so many of the restrictor plate races,” Harvick said. “You see a common trend with the Hendrick cars qualifying well and not being able to handle like they need to when they get to Sunday. I would definitely point towards to the Fords and Penske.”

Working together

Team Penske’s restrictor plate triumphs have — along with SHR’s move to Ford — triggered an unexpected alliance between Harvick and his former nemesis Logano. The union couldn’t have been forged at a better time as the Toyotas continue to find power in numbers as was the case here last year when Joe Gibbs Racing lined up to push Denny Hamlin to Victory Lane.

“Well look, I always tell people that you’d rather have me on your side versus against you,” Harvick said with a laugh. “As you look at Ford, it’s been pretty straightforward of what the expectations are, especially when it comes to superspeedways. We’ll try not to hinder each other.

“When you look at us and how this race has shaken out over the last few years with the Toyota’s just lining up, you’re going to have some help to compete with that. I think we have the fastest cars as the Fords are concerned. I think the three of us were able to make some pretty quick ground during the Clash. I’m excited about it. I love the speed of our car. We had to work on the handling a bit. I’m looking forward in working with all those guys.”