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Article originally published in 2006 Athlon Sports Racing annual
Kevin Harvick broke Richard Childress Racing’s victory drought with a win in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2005, but for the second straight year the team found itself shut out of the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Harvick, driving the No. 29 Chevrolet sponsored by GM Goodwrench, was seventh in the standings in mid-June, but he finished better than 10th only twice the rest of the season and wound up a disappointing 14th in the final standings, a repeat of 2004.
The brash Harvick came to Cup racing abruptly, stepping in for the second race of the 2001 season after Dale Earnhardt’s death in a crash in the Daytona 500. He has now completed five years in the Cup Series and has five career victories on his résumé. In addition, he won four Busch Series races in Childress-owned cars in 2005 — bringing his career total to 17 Busch wins — and he also saw Tony Stewart win in the Busch series and Ron Hornaday win in the Truck series in entries owned by Kevin Harvick, Inc.
Harvick, who celebrated his 30th birthday in December, was fifth in the final Cup standings in 2003. Obviously, he’d like to be back up there again in ’06 to earn a spot in the Chase and, he hopes, contend for a title. Can that happen? Well, we went right to the source — a one-on-one interview between Harvick and veteran motorsports writer David Poole. Here are highlights of that conversation:
You’ve been doing this for five years now. How have you seen things change? What things in the sport are heading in the right direction, and where do there need to be some course corrections?
I think the one area that’s probably the hardest for everybody to anticipate and the thing that scares everybody the most is the cost. It goes up quite a bit every year, so I mean it’s just a matter of where does that end and when do things become predictable on what you’re going to have to spend. The good thing about everything that’s going on is that the fan base continues to grow. People enjoy watching what we’re doing. That’s the most exciting part.
There have been times when you’ve been frustrated by how things have gone with your current team, and at times you’ve been vocal about the need for things to change. Are you optimistic for the long term about where Richard Childress Racing is going?
I think you have to be. Richard has made a lot of changes to make things go in the right direction. We shot ourselves in the foot multiple times last year, and that’s the hardest thing to swallow. We had really competitive cars, but we made a lot of mistakes. Competitively, I am not too disappointed. It’s just about minimizing those mistakes for us at the 29 team.
Now that you’re a car owner, you have to keep your eye out for talent in the sport. Who are a couple of guys who the fans might not yet fully grasp how good they are? Who’s underrated?
I think Tony Raines is going to get his shot with the Hall of Fame Racing team, a chance to prove himself. I think if you go look at somebody like a David Green, who never really got the right opportunity in Cup — there are a handful of guys in the Busch and Truck series that never got that good shot at what they wanted to do. Guys like Mike Garvey or Butch Miller, who never really got the ultimate opportunity that a lot of the guys in the garage did get.
Sometimes frustration over not performing as well as you might expect to can come out in a way that seems like a driver doesn’t appreciate what he’s got when it’s likely that the opposite is true. A driver knows he’s only going to have so many opportunities to succeed, and it’s awfully annoying not to seize them.
Being a competitor, liking what you do and wanting to win, you’re trying to do all of the things we’re here to do and that’s to win races and championships and finish as well as we can every week. When you don’t do those things, whether you’ve screwed up in the driver’s seat or wherever, it is frustrating not to capitalize on those moments and get everything out of them. Sometimes you show those frustrations in different ways from other people. Some people here don’t really care about whether they win or lose. The day I fall into that category is the day I will just quit.
Has being a car owner helped give you a bigger picture of the sport?
Oh yes. It has helped me to understand a lot of things. But there are some things that it has driven the nail home harder and made it worse. All in all, though, it has helped me understand — whether it’s maneuvering people or spending the money, whatever, it makes you understand where Richard is coming from on a lot of things.
Someone once asked Darrell Waltrip what’s the first thing he’d ask for if somebody made him “King of NASCAR” for a day. Waltrip said, “More time.” If somebody gave you the reins for a day, where would you begin?
I think we’d race twice at fewer tracks than we do now. We’d spread it out more across places where the fans like to go. Some of the places that have been here for a long time and have been around the sport deserve two races. But that’s where I’d start. I don’t know that I would be one of those people who wouldn’t add more races. There are more markets we can go to. Everything is there, and maybe trying to mix it up with a Saturday race and then like a Wednesday race to try to do something a little different as far as the scheduling goes. Once we all get going we’re all are on the road all the time anyway. If we raced on Saturday and Wednesday we could pack more races together and maybe have more time off at the end of the year.
NASCAR is trying a lot of things on the competition side, looking at the “car of tomorrow” and things like that. How critical are those projects?
The hardest thing to compare to 10 or 20 years ago is that there are so many good cars and so little tolerance. Look at the fields. All of the cars are separated by less than a second now after qualifying, and it used to be more like three or four seconds. I watched a Bristol race on TV the other day from several years ago and there were five cars on the lead lap. Who knows if we would have had the same problems then that we’re having now with things like the “aero push” because all of those cars weren’t racing together. It’s hard to compare apples to oranges.
There are so many good teams now, everything is so close and you’re in such a small box, it’s hard to pass anybody. Everybody has good people now, because there are just more good people in the sport now. You hear people talking about how great the racing is in the Truck Series or the Busch Series. What makes that racing good is that people in those races make mistakes. You have a set amount of tires to race on and people can’t put tires on every time they come in. The fields get mixed up. And then the crews make mistakes and the drivers make mistakes and that mixes the field up. When you get to Cup races, though, you’ve got the best of the best and everything doesn’t get stirred up. So it doesn’t seem like there’s as much going on because everybody runs well.
When there’s a rain delay at the track, the networks can’t get a camera to your motor home fast enough, and you always have fun with those guys. As his retirement approached last year, Rusty Wallace said one thing he’s noticed in recent years is that some drivers don’t get the fact that entertaining people is part of this job. You seem to understand and enjoy that aspect of it. True?
You have to have a personality. You have to at least express who you are and have fun with it. You have to be somewhat entertaining to watch. We are part of the show. We still have our jobs to do and we’re out here to race. But we have to entertain the fans, too. We do have some guys in this garage who’ve won races, but nobody really cares about them because they’re sticks in the mud.
Is 2006 a particularly important year for you?
Well, I think every year is important. We have a lot of things that are coming to a head, and there are a lot of things we wanted to do in 2005 and in 2004 that we had done in years before. I am going to run more Busch races, and I think that will be good, because I like being in the car and at the track.
It’s all about putting all of the elements together, isn’t it?
You can have fast cars and you can have everything going your way. All it takes is one instant to ruin it. Somebody’s going to have a perfect day. If you’re off a second on pit road, these days that’s a long way on the track. A lot of things can go wrong and you have to have them all right to win. When nobody’s car is dominant, it’s harder and harder to recover from any mistake you make. So you just can’t afford to make any.