Harvick On Track To Fulfill Great Expectations?
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Few Sprint Cup careers have started as publicly as Kevin Harvick’s. Remember the high drama when he took to the track at Rockingham in the winter of 2001 in the car in which Dale Earnhardt was killed the week before?
And remember how, when he won the race at Atlanta in that car two weeks later, suddenly, there was high expectation placed upon the brash 26-year-old from Bakersfield, Calif?
In the years since, there have certainly been great moments and good seasons for Harvick but there has also not been the thing at which Earnhardt was one of the very best ever – winning a championship.
This season, as 2010 moves to its half way point, there is growing hope in the Harvick camp that the ultimate success is finally at hand.
“This,” Harvick announced during a teleconference on Tuesday, “is the best opportunity that we’ve ever had to win a championship. This is the best opportunity we’ve ever had to prepare for a championship because of where we are in the points.”
Where Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing Team are in the points is at the top. They are 105 up on second-place Jimmie Johnson. They have been super consistent from the first day of Speed Weeks as they have had zero DNFS and have finished in the top 10 of all but five of their 17 starts.
And confidence, as they say, is high.
“I feel like the ball is in our court,” Harvick said. “Obviously you’re going to have to knock off the 48 (Johnson, who has won the last four championships). Those are the guys that have made it happen in the Chase and been consistent and won races and done what they have had to do over the last ten weeks. Until somebody proves they can do that, those are the guys that you have to beat and they have done that the last couple of weeks.
“I think for us, the ball is in our hands, and what direction we take it and run with it from here is up to us so we have plenty of time to prepare for it and hopefully we do a good job as we have done to this point and we can step it up and do what we have to do in the last 10 weeks.”
Those last 10 weeks would be the Chase. And in the Chase, points are reshuffled. Harvick could head out of the last race before the Chase with a substantial points lead but could start the Chase in 10th place. That’s because bonus points, which are awarded for winning races, determine the Chase’s reshuffled points positions.
Harvick knows that. He knows that in order to start the Chase – a berth to which, barring total collapse, is basically already a lock – in prime position, he will need to get some victories between now and then as he has one victory and 10 bonus points right now.
He knows that because for the last couple of weeks, the media has been constantly reminding him of it.
“I keep hearing everybody talk about, ‘You’ve got to win more races and you’ve got to do this.’ We’ll win a couple more races and that’s what we have got to do. But the consistency is really what we are looking for; if you’re consistently in the Top 5, those will be championship numbers and you’ll at least have a chance,” he said.
“I do think you’re going to have to win one or two races in the Chase to be in contention, but you can’t have those disasters. We had a 100-point disaster at Martinsville with a brake failure. Obviously you can see the DNFs that the 11 and 48 have had. You have to prevent those DNFs from happening, and you have to prevent those 35th to 40th place finishes. It used to be a 12th place finish would win; I think you have to be seventh or eighth, average, in the last ten races to make it happen.”
Harvick won the race at Talladega earlier this year. It was his first victory since the 2007 Daytona 500.
But there are a couple of things which Harvick and his team have to like as they head into the second half of the season, which begins after Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
The first is, they have fast cars. Not only has Harvick been in position to win several more times times this season – he has six podiums – but his RCR teammates are running up front as well. Jeff Burton, for instance, was leading and appeared headed for victory last weekend until a late caution put him in an untenable pit stop position.
Quite a change from 2009, when RCR cars went winless and had only 14 top-fives between four full-time drivers.
“You know, it’s awesome to see the 180-degree turn that the whole organization has taken,” Harvick said. “And that credit has to go to Richard for making the management changes and the structure changes throughout the organization to use the tools that we have correctly. And he kind of stepped back and really just let everybody do their job, let Scott Miller and Kent Day and all of the crew chiefs really work on the competition side of it, and do what they need to do from a daily standpoint and giving us the money and the resources to do that.
“Really, it’s just Richard making the key moves towards the end of last year to get everybody headed in the right direction.”
Also having Harvick thinking that more victories are in his immediate future is the schedule.
“We are going to a lot of racetracks where we have had a lot of success,” he said. “Obviously everybody circles Indianapolis (where he won in 2003) and we have Atlanta and California and we ran great at Pocono, Watkins Glen, Richmond. There’s a number of racetracks that we have run at and been competitive at this year.
“You know, right now, I feel confident that we can be competitive any week. The only place that we really struggled this year has been Michigan, and we were off there. Luckily that’s not a track in the Chase, but we have to go back there in a few weeks. I definitely feel we are going to be competitive.”
Perhaps competitive enough to join Earnhardt as a Sprint Cup champion for the first time since that memorable start to his career.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments