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Harvick Not Happy About Slow Start To Season

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 25 2011

Kevin Harvick, a championship contender in 2010, has seen his fortunes turn. He and teammate Clint Bowyer, No 33, spun at Bristol last weekend. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Kevin Harvick has not gotten off to the kind of start he and his Richard Childress Racing team hoped for.

After four NASCAR Sprint Cup races, Harvick is 15th in the standings and full of mixed feelings.

On one hand, he’s delighted with the way the No. 29 Chevrolet team is working together. But, on the flip side, Harvick is frustrated that his sixth-place finish last Sunday at Bristol is only his second top-10  of the season.

An engine failure relegated Harvick to 42nd in the season-opening Daytona 500 and, after a fourth-place run at Phoenix, Harvick finished 17th at Las Vegas after a speeding penalty spoiled his day.

“We’ve felt like we had a top-five car in every race so far,’’ Harvick said. “But the results have not been there. It would be very frustrating if everybody wasn’t so focused on making it better.’’

A year ago, there was strong indication that Harvick and Childress might be parting ways over a lack of success. But the team owner convinced the guy he hired to replace the late Dale Earnhardt that better times were ahead.

Harvick signed a contract extension last May. Childress was as good as his word and Harvick went on to a strong run at the 2010 Cup title, finishing a solid third in the Chase after leading the regular season standings.

Most observers expected Harvick and teammates Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer to be Chase contenders

Kevin Harvick says the speed is there, just not the good finishes. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

this season, So far, only team newcomer Paul Menard, one of the season’s biggest surprises, is in the top 10 in points.

Menard is fifth, while veteran teammates Bowyer and Burton are 24th and 29th, respectively.

There is still plenty of time for Bowyer and Burton to charge back up the standings, and Harvick remains within shouting distance of the top 10, which would automatically qualify him for the Chase.

And Harvick likes what he is sensing about his team.

“We have a championship team,” Harvick said. “We proved that we could race for it last year. Everybody is just so confident in each other and everybody is just mellow on the radio and when something happens we just fix it and come back.

“That’s not a feeling I’ve ever had until last year and these first four weeks I’ve had that feeling over and over again and we keep fighting back. These guys are doing a great job and I really think it shows the maturity of the race team and the things that we go through and the way we’ve been able to come back.”

He and the rest of the Cup contingent heads for Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., this week, where Harvick has suddenly found his stride.

In 17 races on the two-mile Southern California oval, Harvick has only seven top 10s and two top fives, but five of them have come in the last six races there. That includes a career-best second last spring and seventh in the fall, giving him three straight top 10s.

Harvick considers the first California race last year as a positive turning point for his whole season, despite finishing second to Jimmie Johnson.

“I got a little over anxious (in that race),’’ Harvick said. “I think a lot of that comes from the year before and not being competitive week-in and week-out and just getting in a hurry there at the end of the race. I should have just let the last few laps play out and tried to take control over the last couple of laps instead of trying to force the issue there at the end.

“Yeah, I think that was definitely the best lesson I learned last year. I got back in that mind frame of running up front, being competitive and putting myself in contention to win races. Luckily, it happened early. You have to be competitive on the mile-and-a-half (and two-mile) race tracks to be in contention. I think as you look at the bulk of the schedule, if you’re not competitive on those types of tracks, you’re in trouble.”

Another top-five finish at Fontana this Sunday would give Harvick an even more positive outlook and could also give him a springboard for the kind of season he envisions.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 25 2011
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