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Harvick Now Comfortable With His Black Past

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011

Kevin Harvick has a lot in common with the person whose job he inherited. And now, he is comfortable enough to talk about it. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Several years back, when I had a racing job that included a salary and benefits package, I drove up to Kernersville, N.C., to do a story about Kevin Harvick and his Kevin Harvick Inc. operation.

The story line I intended to pursue was how he, in many ways, was quite similar to the man he replaced as the driver of Richard Childress’ flagship Chevrolet.

It goes without saying that it would be foolish to write that Harvick had taken the place of the Intimidator, the iconic symbol of everything fans loved about NASCAR.

But there were similarities, and I wanted to write about them.

Of course there are differences. Harvick is from California, and Earnhardt’s home state, North Carolina, couldn’t be much further away and stay on the same continent.

But the similarities are too great to ignore.

Both Harvick and Earnhardt married daughters of men connected to the NASCAR series now known as Nationwide. Teresa Earnhardt’s uncle, Tommy Houston,was a top star in the series, while DeLana Harvick’s father, John Paul Linville, raced for 11 years on the Nationwide circuit.

Both Harvick and Earnhardt owned teams in NASCAR’s Nationwide and truck series, with active participation by their spouses. And both proved to be winners as car owners as well.

Harvick’s Kevin Harvick Inc. fields cars and trucks and has won nine Nationwide Series races and 33

Wearing black was not easy for Kevin Harvick in the early days after Dale Earnhardt's death. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

in the Camping World Truck Series.

Earnhardt’s Dale Earnhardt Inc. won 57 Nationwide and 25 truck races, but he also ventured into the Cup series where his team won 24 races, 20 of them after his fatal crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

As we sat in Harvick’s second-floor office, I threw the similarities out there. Harvick wouldn’t bite. Not even a nibble.

I wound up doing a decent story, not the one I went there to write.

Then, last month at Daytona International Speedway, in his regular session with the press, Harvick gave the answers I was looking for years ago. He talked openly about the comparisons to Earnhardt, who died 10 years ago Friday.

“You (media) guys all know I was very uncomfortable with it in the beginning, didn’t like it, didn’t want to be a part of it, and, you know, as the last three or four years have come, I’ve learned to become more comfortable,” he said. “And I think the biggest reason is we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of things on our own. So that for me is something that makes me a little bit more comfortable with it.”

He said part of his early problem with the Earnhardt situation was he didn’t take the questions the way the questioners intended them, a comment that I can personally appreciate.

“The hardest part for me to learn was just the fact that a lot of times it wasn’t somebody trying to make you do something like he did, it was just somebody complimenting on things that he did and things that we’ve been able to do,” he said.

Harvick said his problems associated with taking over for Earnhardt stemmed from the fact that he

Kevin Harvick talked about his early days in Cup earlier this year in Daytona. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

was essentially doing everything in the wrong order. Instead of working his way up through the series now known as Nationwide and then moving to Cup, he jumped to Cup in an instant.

“I think everything we did was backwards,” He said. “I went into 2000, and we never had anything. We had always… beat my own path as we went along.”

He had planned to run for the Nationwide championship in 2001, then run a few Cup races in preparation for a Cup career on down the road. That all changed when Earnhardt was killed, and Harvick took over the next week at Rockingham.

“Instantly it’s like everybody knows your name, everybody knows what you’re doing, so you start from the wrong end of the spectrum and you don’t have …time to learn.”

There he was a Cup driver with no experience dealing with fans, the press or the pressure.

“As we went into that situation you start off with the biggest press conference that you’ll ever have in your whole career,” he said. “You have more fans than you’ll ever have, and you don’t know how to manage your time. You don’t know how to manage your money. You don’t know what to say, and all of a sudden you have all that stuff at once.

“So instantly I just put up my defense, and it was easier just not to talk about it.”

Time has made life at Richard Childress Racing easier for Kevin Harvick, wife DeLana and Childress himself. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

He said it was tremendous load for a relatively young person to carry.

“I was 25 and didn’t really know exactly what direction that life was going to go,” he said. “Instantly you had everything that you wanted, but you didn’t have to do anything for it. So it just didn’t all make sense to me.”

But maturing as a person and as a driver, and finding some Earnhardt-like success on the track – 14 Cup wins, 37 Nationwide victories and two titles plus nine truck wins – has changed Harvick’s outlook about the issue that dogged him early in his career.

“As I went through the years, and we were able to kind of do the same thing as we had done in the previous parts of my career, I think I became more comfortable with that just because it wasn’t anybody just trying to tell you how to do something, it was everybody trying to compliment you on doing a good job,” he said. “You just happened to be in that car, and that car is important to the sport….so it’s not something you need to try to get away from, it’s something that you need to understand and respect, and I think as you look at the sport, it’s the same way.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 17 2011
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