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The Champ Opens Speedweeks By Opening Up

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 14 2015

Kevin Harvick had a lot to day about life and racing after arriving at Daytona this week. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kevin Harvick arrived at Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks this month as The Man. After 14 years and 502 Sprint Cup starts, the driver with the built-in smirk finally got to walk the grounds at stock car racing’s grandest stage as a champion.

One of his first duties was to put himself in a place that he never seemed to find very pleasant in times past – in front of the media.

He talked about the good times and bad. He talked about last year and this year. He talked about being King for a Year. He talked about  Stewart Haas Racing vs. Richard Childress Racing. He talked about fighting.

What follows is an edited transcript of Harvick’s pre-Daytona 500 Media Day interview:

Q.  You talked about winning the championship. Does that complete your goals for your NASCAR career and if so, what, how do you look at the remaining years

KEVIN HARVICK: Well I think you have to.  You always reestablish new goals and I think that when you’re able to accomplish goals that’s very rewarding, but it also makes setting those new goals that are the same thing very realistic.  I think as you come into this year knowing that you can do the things that we did last year is very rewarding, but it’s also great confidence builder for our race team and our guys and everybody that’s still a part of the number 4 team.

So, we know we can drive in those situations and be successful in those situations, we know we can win races, if we put all the pieces together correctly and we have done all that.

So, the first thing on the agenda is to try to win the Daytona 500, because it would be – I know what it’s like to

Kevin Harvick has found NASCAR happiness at Stewart Haas Racing. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

have won this race and the experience that comes with it and I would love to be a part of winning this race with this group of guys and the things that come with it.

So, it’s easy to set new goals and we all thrive on the competition.  The competition is what drives us and really makes coming to the racetrack fun and exciting, is trying to beat the guys that are around you and next to you on a weekly basis.

Q.      Did you feel that that was the one thing that was left on your to do list?

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, it’s definitely a big one to check off the to do list, for sure.  But still in the end it’s really about competition.  And now the new goal is, okay, how do you go out and do that again and try to put the same things together because – but they will never be the same, just for the fact that it’s a new year, it’s new rules, it’s new situations and how do you overcome those.

So I’ve always been a – it’s always been fun to me to try to put the pieces together.  The puzzle is always different and the part that’s intriguing to me is the fact that it’s just like this off season.  We have had a lot going on, but just try to fit as much in as possible with really managing your time and being able to be good at what we do and be a good champion and be progressing forward with your race team and being a part of it and being good parents and going out and living in a new place.  Because in the end, we changed our whole life to try to accomplish everything that we did last year.  We were able to pull that off and in three years, basically, change everything that we have done.  So, that’s very rewarding for all the people outside of DeLana and myself but everybody who has been involved in it.

Q.  Do you feel like people treat you differently now that you’re a champion?

KEVIN HARVICK: Obviously you get referred to as champ and that’s great and pretty cool.  And when you look at the list of guys that have won a championship, it’s pretty small.  But I think as a guy who has been a part of this sport, for me, I think it was better that I won a championship a little bit later in my career, because I think I respect it a lot more and understand how hard it is to get to this point and really know the work and effort that and how many people it takes to be a part of it.

So – and this group of guys that I’m with, with Rodney (Childers, his crew chief) and all the guys on my team, but really SHR in general, it’s just such a unique place to work and be a part of.  And it’s a group of racers, but it’s so strange in an environment where have you hundreds of people, to have everybody support and push and care about what the other one’s doing and in a very relaxed atmosphere.  I know you guys have heard me talk about it, but to be a part of a team and see every piece sort of pulling in the same direction and supporting the other, whether the chips are up or down, is something that is just so amazing to be a part of; that not everybody gets to be a part of.

I mean, I owned my own race teams, I drove at RCR and you always are trying to mix and match the pieces, but it’s just so different with what I have at SHR and on the number 4 team.

Q.  Some people set goals and time tables.  Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but is what happened to you last year more a testament to the grind and sticking to it and sometimes things come together in a way that you don’t even expect?

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, we had made some pretty bold decisions back in 2012 that led up to everything that happened last year.  The end of 2012 and 2013 were tough transitions and tough times to get through.  But in the end, the ultimate pay off was seeing it all come together and winning that championship.

You lay it all out on a piece of paper and it was a very unique situation because we went out and handpicked Rodney.  We had an organization that was willing to do everything that they had to do from a financial standpoint to go out and buy new cars, trucks, trailers, every nut and bolt on that team was brand new last year.

So you didn’t get a couple cars from this team and a couple things from this team.  It was, OK, we want you guys to succeed, so here, you guys just go get everything that you need and you hire all the people that you think will fit in.  And Rodney and Greg really took the time to spend to say, all right, is this guy going to fit into SHR?  Is this guy going to fit in the with guys that we already hired?  And it all meshed up and matched up so freakishly crazy, because we’re all about the same age.  Rodney and I, especially, have similar backgrounds.  And everybody from Brett is very similar in age.

So it’s just a the whole dynamic of it is so unique and in the way that it works and the way that everybody has

Kevin Harvick took to the track as reigning champion this week. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

migrated together and being interested in a lot of the same things and around the same age.  And that’s really what it takes, is that chemistry and the chemistry just accidentally – I shouldn’t say accidentally, but fell into place from a lot of different directions.

Q.  It’s hard to define, isn’t it?

KEVIN HARVICK: It is hard to define.

Q.  (No microphone.)

KEVIN HARVICK: No, I think when you look that the team was crafted together from individuals.  They were all put together from an individual basis and drafted together.  But how are those individuals going to react with the current management and things that were in place at SHR and it all – I always think disagreements are healthy, as long as they’re handled correctly.

I think internally some of those conversations were healthy for the company and I think a lot of that has evolved into changes that were made over the off season to change the dynamic.  And in the way that SHR functions on a daily basis with the teams and how the cars are put together.  And I think that bringing those teams together and working together more closely and having the same hands and parts and pieces is going to make us all better.

Q.  As miserable as you had become at RCR, how gratifying was it to find the kind of happiness?

KEVIN HARVICK: It was so gratifying.  I can’t even explain it to you.

Q.  Can you try to put it into words, because you worked so hard.  And were just spinning your wheels.

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, a lot of times a lot of the things that you would talk about and try to make happen maybe did or didn’t happen were received with open arms.  And Tony was like, look, you need to help us as much as we can help you on the competition side and – but that’s the culture that’s created with – Gene and Tony have created up there is, we’re not going to tell you what to do.  We’re going to let you guys function in your own little way and if you see something working on this side, you’re going to have the capability to go over and put this together.  And shame on you if you don’t.

So it’s just a culture that really works for me and an environment that really works for me and when you have all that stuff available to you with the assets and resources that we have, whether it be from a financial standpoint or from a Hendrick Motorsports standpoint or Tony Stewart standpoint, Zipadelli.  There’s so many championships and race wins that are all over the place that have you access to, it’s just hard to explain how many things that you have access to.

Q.  It was like that at RCR.  But it’s like after everything kind of happened in 2001, and that focus on that wasn’t where it is, where you’re at now, I guess.  Over the years, it just seemed to get away from that.

KEVIN HARVICK: Maybe, yeah.  It’s hard to really evaluate exactly how things functioned from that standpoint.  But I know from where I am today, it’s just a culture that is a racer’s culture and a very open environment that is very creative and they let you be creative in trying to push your own direction.

Q.  You are good friends with Tony as well as teammates.  He’s talked at the media here about kind of entering this season more charged up than ever before.  I know that you probably haven’t spent any time at any track, but have you seen him, how do you see him coming into this season?  Do you think he’s the same old Tony Stewart that we used to know?

He’s got that spring in his step and the most exciting part for me about Tony is when he walks.  He doesn’t limp.  He’s walking around, he can stand on his feet for hours upon hours.  He’s smiling and joking and doing all the things that you would expect out of Tony.

So that, for me, when I walked into media day and saw him walking up and down the steps and all over the place and not having to sit in a chair and worry about his leg.  I mean, he’s running across the shop, just no more scooters, no more limping and walking.

So I think as you look at all that, he’s gotten a lot of things with his leg straight.  He’s gotten all his other situations situated and I think that hopefully he gets back on track because he’s happy and content with where he’s at in life, it seems, from what I see from the outside looking in.

Q.  How much did you feel for him?  Obviously he went through a lot after the accident.  How hard was that?

It was hard to watch, because at the same time, you’re out on the racetrack and one of the biggest reasons I came to SHR was for Tony Stewart and to lean on him as a teammate, and a person, as a guy that’s won three championships and been a part of a lot of race wins.

So, you didn’t really have that to lean on until we got towards the end of the season.  And he was a huge part of what we did at Phoenix and Homestead and after Martinsville.  And just his own way of motivating you.

So, it was hard, because you’re out on the racetrack being successful and this guy’s just going through everything that he has going on in his life.  And it’s ‑‑ you’re sitting in the same meetings and talking about how great it was and he’s just staying afloat, basically.  So, it was hard to watch.

But you also saw it happen and then you saw it go through its phase and then have him at the end of the year start to come out of that and experience that moment with him in Homestead after we won the championship and see how much that meant to him as a person was pretty special.

And to see his progress over the winter is, for me, is the most exciting part as a person, because Tony is first my friend, he’s second my owner and third, he’s – I never really see him as the owner, I see him as my teammate.  But I’m just happy that he’s happy.  You can visibly see it.  I don’t have to explain it to you guys, you’ve already seen him.

Q.  They sent out a couple copies of the interview that you did with them.  You never really talked about your childhood or your family before.  What made you want to do it now?

KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I mean it was just kind of part of the interview.  Obviously, it was a pretty open interview and there’s just a lot of things that I’ve been a part of.  A lot of different things as I’ve gone through life, whether it’s been personal or the Earnhardt situation or everything that led up to changing jobs at SHR.

So, I guess he just asked the right questions and he got some unique answers.  But look, it’s obviously now ‑‑ especially it’s no secret, we went through some hard times from a personal standpoint that had you to deal with.  For me, I guess the thing that really brings them forward is how you look at those situations and how you grew up and how you want to handle them as a dad with your son and how you can be better.

So, it’s not something where you want to downgrade, but anybody from any standpoint, it’s things that happen and things you had to deal with as a kid and things you have to deal with in life that a lot of people deal with.  And you just want to try to use those situations to be a better person and that’s really about it.

Q.  From a management side, Cowboy’s (Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, a fighter Harvick manages) on a roll, how good is this for you right now and what’s it like?  Just talk about that a little bit.

KEVIN HARVICK: Both of them are doing really good.  Obviously, cowboy has won seven fights in a row and fought the last one with – on really short notice to come out with a win against a really top notch guy in Ben Henderson.

So, Miesha was flown to Japan to fight their best fighter and then came back over here and fought the last fight and came back from a first round that she probably lost.

So it’s been a great experience for us to see how all this stuff has developed and I think as you move forward, it’s – there’s some great things on the horizon for them.  So hopefully they can keep it up.

Q.  Looking to add more fighters to the fold?

KEVIN HARVICK: No we’re just looking to do a good job at what we have right now.  Obviously if there’s a situation that pops up of somebody that might fit into the group and fit well with the others we might.

But right now, it’s just really about focusing on how we can maximize the potential of the people that we have and really looking towards 2016.  Because everything’s set pretty much for what I do and what they do for 2015, except for perform in the ring or on the track.

Q.  They both could wind up with title fights in the next year.

KEVIN HARVICK: They could.

Q.  How exciting is that for you?

KEVIN HARVICK: It is exciting.  I’m more excited for them than I am anything, because I feel like we have taken a lot of the burden off of them of having to worry about sponsors.  And making enough money to survive and hiring the right sparring partners and trainers and things that they need to take it to the next level that maybe they can or can’t compete with.

So, hopefully they have got the financial stability to know that they can go out and do those things and really prepare and not have to worry about those things and just concentrate on being the best fighters that they can.

Q.  Every sport there are heroes and villains and white hats and black hats.  Is Brad good for this sport?

KEVIN HARVICK: Absolutely.  He’s a great competitor and driver.  That’s what every sport thrives on is competition.

The great part about Brad is just he believes in what he believes in and he follows through on it and that’s ‑‑ there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think as you – if you just look at the core of who he is, he’s a great race car driver.  And I think as you get older, and you develop as in everyday life, you just mature as a person and some of those other things, other things change.

So, I’ve been there, it’s not that – you can’t, there’s no reason to throw stones, because I’ve been on that side and where everybody looks at you and asks you if you’re the villain and asks if you’re the bad guy.  And it’s just kind of part of it and you go through that cycle, unless you’re Jeff Gordon.  You start – Jeff Gordon’s like Derek Jeter.  You start with that great reputation and carry that all the way through and some of us have just gone like this and had to come back up.  So it’s just different.

Q.  You could start a NASCAR UFC.  You could promote it.

KEVIN HARVICK: We don’t have anything for that side of the world.  We might be able to throw a few errant punches, but you would get knocked on your ass pretty quick.

Q.   What does Gordon mean to the sport?

KEVIN HARVICK: When you look at this sport, the way that it’s shaped, Dale Earnhardt, in my opinion, would have never been what he was towards the end of his career if Jeff Gordon hadn’t come into the sport.

Because when you look at the fortunate 500 companies and the things that it brought to Earnhardt because of the attention that Jeff Gordon brought to the sport, it took Earnhardt to another level.  And then it was kind of like you had all those new fans that didn’t really like Earnhardt.

And then you had the old school fans and the old – and then you had a brand like Good Wrench and you had a brand like Wrangler that were like the good old boy brands that wanted to get into that marketing more with the new wave and new era.

But when you look at it, that’s just my opinion.  I just – Earnhardt was a huge part of the sport.  But if you look at the end of those late ’90s, early 2000 up until 2001, I mean if you look at the leap that Earnhardt’s career took and the ‑‑ his wealth and the sponsors and the things that he had, a lot of that, in my opinion, had to do with Jeff Gordon.

Q.  And he kicked open a lot of doors.


Q.  For a lot of young drivers.

KEVIN HARVICK: Oh, yeah.  It changed the whole perception of how you looked at a driver.  Everybody wanted older, experienced guys at that point who wouldn’t tear up the cars.  Then the next thing you know everyone was looking for the next wave of talent to be like Jeff.  So it changed the way that the sport worked.

Q.  (No microphone.)

KEVIN HARVICK: That’s the only way to control your own destiny is to win races.  And that’s the great thing that Rodney has really bred into our team.  Let’s figure out ‑‑ whether it’s practice, qualifying, or a race.  We got to figure out how to be the fastest in that particular session and if we’re not, it will continue to drive us to work.

So, that’s just how he approaches it and that’s what everybody’s followed suit in doing.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 14 2015
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