The Racing Capital
of the World
Jul 24, 2016
February 21, 2014 | By Bruce Martin
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Harvick has always been a driver with a fierce attitude and determination. He isn’t afraid to show that on the race track that makes him a perfect fit for his new team owner, Tony Stewart of Columbus, Ind.
Both are similar in their approach behind the wheel of a race car. They can be friendly rivals with other drivers off the track, but don’t really care if they don’t make friends during a race.
So after 12 successful seasons at Richard Childress Racing that included a victory in the 2003 Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick is ready for the next phase of his career at Stewart Haas Racing.
The hard-edged Harvick joins fellow edgy racers Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Stewart at the four-car team that will capture plenty of attention this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning with Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500.
Harvick is the only member of Stewart Haas Racing that has won the Daytona 500. Stewart, Busch and Harvick are all winless in the signature race on the NASCAR schedule.
He finished second in a thrilling three-wide finish at the checkered flag in Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel at Daytona but his finish was disallowed after the rear track bar split did not pass post-race technical inspection.
So instead of starting fifth on Sunday Harvick, will have to pedal his way from the 38th starting position in the Budweiser Chevrolet. In a race where drafting is so important, however, it really doesn’t matter where a driver starts at the restrictor-plate race track because with the right strategy and drafting partner, he can draft his way up to the front in the 200-mile race.
“We've had two good races this week; our cars have been fast,” Harvick said. “We've been able to run up front and lead some laps and do the things we need to do.
“On Sunday we just need to do the same thing and keep it rolling for 500 miles. I think when you get more cars in the pack; it's going to be a little more intense than what it was (Thursday night). It was obviously a great finish. But I just had to go whenever the pack bunched up and decided to make a move like that. We made it just a touch too late to be able to get the last side draft by Matt there at the end. So it was a good race.
“I think we've all done a pretty good job at tearing a few things up along the way so far. I think everybody was a little bit conservative. I think obviously there were only 18 cars in the Unlimited and we tore the whole field up. I think everybody wanted to do what they had to do to get the best finish that they could. Obviously those of us running up front tried to win the race. It just didn't time out exactly perfect.”
Although his finish was disallowed, his performance on the race track served as a good opportunity to determine how well his car will perform in the Daytona 500. And for drivers who were already assured of a starting position in the Daytona 500 that is the value of competing in the 150-mile qualifying race because it gives them a good indication of what to expect in the big race on Sunday.
“We just had a three wide finish for the win,” Harvick said. “I guess if you guys don't like that, we'll have to try something different.
“I think when everybody gets antsy and wants to go, you can group up and go.”
After a near-three month break between the end of last season and the SpeedWeeks, it didn’t take Harvick long to get up to speed once he hit the track at Daytona. He finished fifth in the race where only eight cars were running at the finish.
“The good news is this year is that I’ve been in the car a fair amount as we’ve gone through the offseason,” Harvick said. “We’ve probably been in the car eight or 10 days throughout the last couple of months. You just take your time. There’s no reason to take too many chances as you move into SpeedWeeks. I’ve laid in bed sick and watched my car get wrecked and seen wrecks, and been involved in wrecks. A lot of them have happened in that first practice.”
Harvick admits he was in need of a fresh start to rejuvenate his racing career -- that is why he realized it was time to leave RCR. Competing for the legendary team owner was no longer fun and it showed on the race track. He made the announcement in 2012 that 2013 would be his final season with Childress, but promised to give a total effort.
“Last year was just a grind,” Harvick admitted. “It was just very tense, just an awkward situation to be in from a driver’s standpoint. Everybody knew everybody was going in a different direction the year after. You had to try to keep the focus on the racing and not on the business side, and the hurt feelings and all the things and all the emotions that came with the position that we were in. Luckily, I had a group of guys that just wanted to race and didn’t really care about the politics and didn’t get involved in the politics, and we were able to make it through there and have a good year. Everything ended fine and here we are today.”
And that united him with his on-track foe but off-track friend Stewart, a two-time Brickyard 400 winner and two-time Sprint Cup champion.
While Stewart has become a legend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Brickyard 400, it was another legend at the Speedway that was Harvick’s racing hero in the Indianapolis 500.
“Childhood heroes, well I grew up in Bakersfield, California, so obviously Rick Mears was kind of the racing idol in the town of Bakersfield,” Harvick said. “I grew up wanting to win the Indy 500 and race Indy cars and I did none of that, and wound up racing stock cars.
“I think when you look at Tony (Stewart), the biggest thing that comes to my mind is just the fact that he doesn’t really know anything else. Racing consumes his life whether it is in NASCAR, sprint cars or just watching a race on TV. He doesn’t have any kids or a wife or anything like this. These race teams are pretty much just family and he spends a lot of the time with the guys around him on the different teams. He’s just a racer and he’s got that drive and determination to not only do what he did before, but to be better when he came back. It’s just a matter of seeing it on the race track and I think for him, he’s just a hardcore racer and that’s all he really knows how to do.”
Ironically, once Harvick and Stewart came to an agreement that the Harvick and Budweiser would join his team in 2014, they refocused on their respective racing careers and teams.
“I’ll be honest with you, when we started about this move Tony and I never even spoke about it,” Harvick admitted. “I never went to the shop, I never met Gene (Haas, team co-owner), never talked to Tony. Everybody just decided that our guys that talked to each other decided that this was the direction that both sides wanted to go, and they handled it and we both raced.
“Obviously, as he went through the year he was looking for things to do and worried about the team and the performance, and the best conversation I had all year was when I sat in that bus and he said, ‘I promise you, you are my motivation to make sure we get this race team situated and back competitive because I want to win this championship as the owner for you driving this car.’
“It’s not the first time that we’ve worked together from this relationship, obviously the roles are reversed, but I think when you get into a situation like this with myself and Tony, when the other tells you something it’s not because he’s trying to hurt you in anyway, he’s trying to help you and trying to make you better.
“That’s part of the reason why I came to this team was to try to figure out how to win a championship and Tony’s done that, Kurt’s (Busch) done that, so as an organization Stewart-Haas Racing has done that. There are just a lot of resources, there’s a lot of -- Gene’s obviously made a huge commitment from a financial standpoint and they’ve hired a lot of very good people. We’ve handpicked everybody on our team and spent a lot of time trying to put the right people in the right places. I think if you do something wrong, somebody’s got to tell you and I think that’s just part of the deal. We’ve worked together before so it’s not out of the ordinary.”
Stewart, Harvick, Kurt Busch and Patrick all have huge personalities that far exceed the garage area. In their own way they can sometimes be polarizing.
They also step out of line from time to time, which should make this combination one of the most interesting in the sport.
“Behave, in this bunch? It’s hard to misbehave,” Harvick said. “I think for the most part you know when you’ve done something wrong and you need to do it better. From a competition standpoint, you want to race and you want to do the right things, but I’ve been around this thing long enough to where you know when you’ve said something, done something, made a mistake on the track or need to do something better. For the most part, you know and it’s pretty obvious what you need to do. There’s a lot of experience and all of us have been there and done that and it’s all about winning races and trying to win a championship at this point. Whatever it takes.
“The expectations are high right now because everything has gone so well. The cars have been really, really fast at all three tests that we’ve been to. I feel like Rodney (Childers) and our team has meshed together. I don’t feel like anybody at SHR -- nobody has said no to anything. We’ve had a lot of hurdles to overcome, but a lot of that has been because of the resources that we’ve been able to go out, and whether it be purchase or hire, or whatever the case may be. Nobody has said no, they all wanted to start right in and I’m sure we’ll work from there. Every car that we have is brand new and it’s really a culture change as SHR. There’s just tons of new cars and a new direction from an engineering point going forward.”
“I expect to win and race for a championship. That’s why I came here.”
Harvick has won both of NASCAR’s two big races at Daytona and Indianapolis. His motivation is to finally win a Sprint Cup championship, and he came to the conclusion that he wouldn’t accomplish that goal if he stayed at RCR.
“I don’t think it was that I could never win a championship there,” Harvick admitted. “It’s just that we hadn’t won a championship there and had been 10 or 12 years, and we hadn’t won a championship, so it was just kind of like, what do we need to do to try to figure that out. I hadn’t ever not been able to accomplish that in any division that I ever raced in during my racing career, and it’s something that I wanted to figure out personally, and just a lot of things happened.
“I felt like with Tony and Gene and the commitment that they had made to have already won a championship with their team, and have the alliance with the Hendrick bunch and Hendrick engines, was something that I felt was intriguing to go try and try to win a championship. I feel like we recruited Rodney Childers hard to come over, and I feel like we had a lot of conversations to see how we were going to mesh as people and I think that’s gone really well. He’s big on having relationships and understanding people, and being able to communicate with them.
“It wasn’t that I couldn’t, it was more that I hadn’t.”
“I think I’m in a good position to race in any format. I think our team is in position to race in any format. I learned a long time ago, they don’t call me to make the rules and I’ve got an opinion on them. I like the knockout stuff; I think that’s great. I don’t know that coming down to one race is great. Whatever it is, we’ll show up and we’ll race and we’ll try to win. I think Jimmie has a great opportunity to go win just like everybody else.
“It’s just going to come down to making it happen.”
Harvick has lots of impressive trophies in his career including the Harley J. Earl Trophy for wining the Daytona 500 in 2007 and “The Brick” for winning the 2003 Brickyard 400.
This year he hopes to add an even bigger trophy to his collection.
“It’s all I think about. It’s the one trophy in racing that I feel like has eluded my trophy case,” Harvick said of the Sprint Cup. “I’d like to see it put in there sooner rather than later. That drive and determination is very motivating, there’s always going to be pressure, you’re always going to put the pressure on yourself to go out and win races and do better and always try to finish better, and want to do better than you did last week. That pressure is always going to be there, but that motivation is kind of silly that it’s motivated around a piece of metal like that.
“Everybody’s goal in this room is to race for a championship. Tony and Kurt are fortunate to have done that already. I’ve been there and finished 21st in the points, too. There’s two sides to that, you can be really happy with finishing third and finish 20th the next year, and be really happy the year after and finish third in the points again.
“Our goal is to win a championship.”
And the first step in that process comes in the 56th Daytona 500 as Harvick attempts to win the famed race for the second time in his career.