In the media center at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Friday, Kevin Harvick spoke about his decision to leave Richard Childress Racing and join Stewart-Haas Racing. Beginning in 2014, Harvick will drive a No. 4 Chevrolet for SHR, sponsored by Budweiser. Here’s what Harvick had to say:
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU THAT BUDWEISER IS GOING TO FOLLOW YOU TO STEWART-HAAS RACING?
“Obviously, it’s nice to officially all the speculation about numbers and teams and as far as the sponsorship, obviously we’ve had three years with Budweiser and looking forward to moving forward with them as a sponsor. It’s been an interesting process just from the fact that we really haven’t been involved in much of anything on the sponsorship side of it just for the fact that when we did the deal with SHR we were knowing that we were having to move forward for a year here and we wanted to make sure that we did a good job with RCR so it’s nice to be in a position to not have to go out and be a part of that whole process and be able to focus on racing a car and getting the performance and doing the things that we need to do at RCR. It’s worked out well and those guys at SHR took full responsibility to have the car funded and that made my life a lot easier.”
WHY WAS THE MOVE MADE WITH BUDWEISER?
“I signed a deal with Stewart Haas Racing and everybody was pretty sensitive to the fact that we still had another year. For those guys to take the responsibility and say, if we don’t have the sponsorship then the car will be on the race track and will be funded. There’s something to be said about having that guarantee of money behind the car and being able to be on the race track and for me kind of with the transition and wanting to do a good job this year and they were very sensitive to me wanting to be competitive on the race track. I think it was important for both sides to have the 29 car be competitive and winning races and doing the things that we’ve been able to do this year. It was just part of the deal. We didn’t want to be involved in it, we wanted to make sure that we finished our role at RCR on a positive note so on the sponsorship side; I hadn’t even met any of the guys at SHR. The deal was done between my guys and Tony’s (Stewart) guys and honestly, I think Tony and I had maybe two conversations about it. It was just something that we knew we wanted to do and we left it up to our people to try to make it all work. It will be interesting to finally meet all those guys and see how it all went down and understand it all. It’s been a different process, but we both knew that’s what we wanted to do.”
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE THE BUDWEISER SPONSORED DRIVER?
“It’s obviously a great brand and to be a part of the brand has been a lot of fun and to see the activation and things that come with that are fun to be a part of. That’s what they do, not only do they sell beer, but they activate like nobody else and to be a part of that is not only good for your brand, but it’s good for everybody who’s involved in it.”
WHY DID YOU DO THIS ANNOUNCEMENT NOW?
“I have no idea why.”
DID THEY MAKE THE ANNOUNCEMENT TO GET IT OUT BEFORE GETTING TO THE CHASE?
“I think it seems like it’s going to work out that way to kind of get it all over with and end the speculation and I think a lot of people asked, why tell the team so early last year and it let a lot of the emotions get out of the way and it let everybody go on about their business as we went to Daytona and raced the car and I think that paid off. Hopefully, the timing kind of eases it for both sides to kind of go about their business as the Chase gets here and over the next few weeks.”
DO YOU FEEL CONFIDENT THAT RCR WILL BE OKAY LOSING A DRIVER AND SPONSOR?
“From my standpoint, Richard (Childress, team owner) and I talked about how we wanted to approach it at the end of the year from a sponsorship standpoint; I honestly don’t even know what to tell you on that side of it. It’s nice to be able to go through this transition period and by the time we shut the teams down and you re-do from a financial plan to a family plan to a new job, it’s going to have taken almost three years by the time we roll off at Daytona to have everything have transitioned into the business model that we will be executing in 2014 whether it be from the racing side or from the KHI side. There have been a lot of talks, a lot of plans and a lot of things that have had to take place as we’ve tried to make our businesses what they need to be going forward on the management side or the racing side with changing teams. There’s been a lot of thought and a lot of things that go into it to make all this happen.”
WHY IS STEWART-HAAS A BETTER PLACE FOR YOU?
“I think for me the Stewart Haas piece was intriguing just for the fact that you have Tony (Stewart) as a teammate who’s been a big part of what we did at KHI to get it started. We have a friendship that goes beyond the race track and I think obviously Gene Haas makes it very intriguing with the guarantees that he made to make the deal happen to put the car on the race track and when you have a family and you start seeing those guarantees of sponsorship for the car, it makes you think about things. I think not only those two pieces, but the Hendrick tie with the engines and the support, understanding that I think the potential is really high with all those resources and relationships and things that go with it.”
DID YOU TALK TO ANY OTHER TEAMS?
“Gosh, it’s been awhile. There were a couple different scenarios involved in it.”
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE NUMBER 4?
“I think the 4 is just something that’s with the 14. The number was something that I don’t want to say didn’t really matter to me, but it’s something that you want to see consistent with the team and the things that they have going on. That was a number that was available and seemed like it was a pretty common tie to the 14.”
IS THIS A CHASE THAT CAN BE WON WITH CONSISTENCY OR DO YOU STILL HAVE TO WIN RACES?
“I think we’re going to have to win races and have the consistency. You saw Carl (Edwards) and Tony (Stewart) race for that championship and winning and consistency met head-to-head at Homestead and winning won. I think as you look at the significance of winning, that kind of puts an exclamation point on it and I think you’re going to have to have both to be able to have a chance at it. We have to get better to beat the 48 (Jimmie Johnson).”
WHAT ABOUT TONY STEWART IMPRESSES YOU?
“He definitely has a lot going on and being on the ownership side, you see and I know that one of the biggest things we fought from a team owner standpoint was finances and being able to take something to the next level it costs money. That’s one thing that it seems like we’re going to have that outlet where if we get into a bind and need to change things or find things or test or do the things, it’s there. When you add the sponsorship to it, I think there are a lot of pieces where the potential is really high where I can help enhance the program and I feel like our relationship is going to help progress things as they move forward with directions of the company on the performance side. Tony balances a lot of things and I’ve been in that boat and we’ve eliminated a lot of things and I think it’s going to allow me the time to help him really balance this part of his professional life and be able to make it better.”
WHAT HAVE GIL MARTIN AND RICHARD CHILDRESS MEANT TO YOU?
“I think you talk about the integrity of the whole situation and I don’t think it’s one single person, I don’t think it’s myself, I don’t think it’s Gil (Martin, crew chief), I don’t think it’s Richard (Childress, team owner), I think everybody has kind of latched onto the message that the three of us have fed him that we’re going to go out and we’re going to race every week as hard as we can. I was sitting in a competition meeting for the Chase with Eric Warren on Wednesday morning so it’s not like we’ve detached ourselves from what we’re doing and those guys on the team, they don’t care about the politics of the sport, they just want to win races. They like spraying beer in victory lane and as a group we’re going to do that until we get to Homestead and we’ll start working on the future plans when that race is over.”
HOW DO YOU ASSESS WHERE YOU ARE AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON?
“I think we’ve made a lot of mistakes ourselves at the beginning of the year and in situations where we probably had a chance to win more races, but we’ve also capitalized on situations when people have made mistakes and I think for us in 2011 and even 2012, that consistency piece that we’ve always had was gone. It wasn’t really there and we were looking for it. This year, that consistency piece has come back. On the days when we’ve made mistakes or had something happen, we’ve been able to rebound and nobody is getting wound up about it and we just go out and we try to overcome whatever situation has happened the best that we can to get the best finish that we can. I feel like that consistency is back and I feel like we need to get better speed-wise, which is what the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) has made us all do over the last few weeks. His car has been extremely fast and we know over the next eight weeks that we need to get better to start the Chase from a speed standpoint. The consistency has been keeping us in the game and we haven’t made near as many mistakes over the last 10 weeks as we did over the first eight weeks. We’re doing pretty good and we know we have some things to work on, but you always do.”
DID YOU FEEL YOU WEREN’T GETTING ENOUGH CONSISTENCY AT RCR AND WHY ISN’T ANYBODY TALKING ABOUT YOU AS A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER?
“The decision to make the change was just from a standpoint of needing to make a change from really a personal standpoint to just kind of rejuvenate exactly what you’re doing. For me the situation with Tony (Stewart) and having that relationship with a guy that is going to be sitting in the cars next to you and having that kind of teammate that has won championships and a team that has won championships in the last couple of years is something that is just exciting. Then you add in the Hendrick support side of it and there is a lot to draw from. It wasn’t anything personal from a Richard (Childress, team owner) standpoint or a team standpoint doing anything wrong, it was just me needing to rejuvenate myself to get to the race track and really be excited to show up to do winter testing and the things that go with it and not just in the same routine. Just like everybody else’s job sometimes you just need a change to get going again.”
WHAT TELLS YOU THIS CAR DESIGN WILL BE BETTER FOR INDIANAPOLIS AND CAN YOU BELIEVE 20 YEARS NOW AT THE BRICKYARD?
“It has been 20 years at the Brickyard. This car has been good pretty much 98 percent of the race tracks that we’ve gone to see the race and it seems like the strategy and things that come with this car for whatever reason really mixes things up at the ends of these races. I know it seems like everybody is happy with the tire that Goodyear brought or is bringing. It’s still Indy, it’s still the second biggest race on the schedule and you’re going to be racing at Indianapolis.
“The car has been fun to race and the guys and myself, I think we all feel that we can drive the cars really hard with those bigger spoilers and those long straightaways, the draft could be pretty interesting to see going into turns one and three. Should be a fun race.”
WERE YOU CONFIDENT THAT BUDWEISER WOULD GO WITH YOU?
“Basically what happened was we decided that was what we wanted to do from a team standpoint. We went to the team at SHR, we worked out my contract and they basically guaranteed what the car would have on it on the race track and they basically took full responsibility to figure out what direction they wanted to go from a sponsorship standpoint and how to make it go around. It didn’t have one dollar of sponsorship when I signed the contract.”
YOU TALKED EARLIER ABOUT REDOING YOUR FINANCIAL PLAN AND HOW YOU HAVE HAD A THREE YEAR TRANSITION TO THE BUSINESS MODEL FOR NEXT YEAR. I SAW THAT KHI (KEVIN HARVICK INC.) SIGNED A SPONSOR THIS WEEK WITH YOU AND JEFF BURTON. IS THAT WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT? COULD YOU JUST MAYBE EXPAND ON THAT? IS THAT THE PLAN TO USE KHI TO HELP YOU FIND SPONSORSHIP FOR THE CAR FOR YOU FOR OTHER STUFF GOING FORWARD?
“From the KHI management side of it obviously we have got myself that they handle on a day to day basis we have Donald Cerrone in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) that we handle the things for him on a day to day basis. Jason Gore and they help Jeff Burton with his personal sponsorship all year this year. It’s just kind of a direction that we thought we could manage our family and job. We have all the tools in place to put people under our wing and also for us it allows us more outlets as far as the KHI brand and what they sell. Not only do you have a NASCAR program, but you have a golf program, you have a UFC program. You can be a more well-rounded house for the sponsors if somebody doesn’t like golf or they don’t like NASCAR of they don’t like the UFC you have other things that most likely they have a good chance of liking. For us we can put together more unique programs from a sponsorship side of it, sale side of it to go out and attract different sponsors to different sports.”
ARE YOUR OTHER SPONSORS COMING OVER? RHEEM, JIMMY JOHN’S?
“Look I have no idea. That was the intriguing part about the SHR (Stewart-Haas Racing) piece of it was the car is going to be on the track and they said you go do your job and finish your year and race the cars as hard as you can and do a good job for Richard (Childress) and we will worry about the rest of it. It’s kind of one of the biggest intriguing parts of the whole thing was the fact that you don’t have to worry about that part of it. You cannot worry about chasing it you can drive the car, spend time with your family and hopefully they get it all worked out.”
YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO BE EXCITED AGAIN TO SHOW UP DURING WINTER TESTING, THINGS LIKE THAT WHAT KIND OF SAPPED SOME OF THE ENTHUSIASM FROM YOU OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS?
“I don’t think anything has taken the enthusiasm away. It’s just like when you show up to the same desk for 12 or 13 years you are like, man I need a new desk or you need to change the pictures on the wall. It’s just something to where you just want a change of pace to do something and that is really what it all boiled down to; one of the pieces that it boiled down to.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA CREW CHIEF WISE OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT? WILL YOU HAVE INPUT INTO THAT? ALSO, YOU SAID YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO GET BETTER TO BEAT THE NO. 48 AND YOU MENTIONED THAT THEIR CARS HAVE BEEN EXTREMELY FAST. AS A COMPETITOR WHAT MAKES THEM GOOD DO YOU THINK?
“I’m sure we will sit down and talk about crew chiefs and things because obviously those will have to happen before we get to December. We will talk about a direction and that will be probably the extent of the conversation moving forward. Everybody is sensitive to wanting to make sure that we do a good job this year at RCR and they do a good job in their current situation. The thing about the No. 48 is they and I always used to tell my teams this. Is if you are comfortable winning races somebody is going to come along and beat you and then you are going to get behind. It seems like they win races, but they are constantly trying to get better and they constantly succeed in getting better. They never really get in that up and down rut. They are kind of the leader of pushing things forward and I think even when things are going good you can’t just sit on your hands and say we are doing pretty good right now we don’t need to try anything else to get better. It doesn’t seem like they ever do that. It’s constantly it seems from the outside looking in that Chad (Knaus) is a workaholic and dedicates himself to trying to find the next thing before everybody else and it’s paid off for them. Obviously Jimmie (Johnson) does a great job in driving the car and giving the feedback to send Chad in a direction to help them find speed.”
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR