Kevin Harvick heads into Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway as the circuit’s most recent winner, winning the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway the weekend prior to the Easter off-weekend for the series. Harvick is one of seven winners to win in the first seven races, the only repeat winner.
So far, 2014 has been feast or famine for Harvick in his first year behind the wheel of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. After claiming his first win of the season in the second race of the year at Phoenix International Raceway, Harvick posted four finishes outside the top-35 in the five races before his win at Darlington.
Harvick is a three-time winner at Richmond, with his most recent of the three coming in the Spring 2013 race at RIR.
On Friday morning at Richmond, Harvick met with the media and talked about a variety of topics, including his wins, Friday’s weather that could potentially cancel qualifying, potential rule changes for next year, and the upcoming visit to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, among other things. Here’s what he had to say:
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE WEEKEND:
“This has been a great race track for us in the past. As we have come through the years I have been fortunate to have a lot of success. I always look forward to coming to this race weekend just knowing that and hoping that you can contend for a win. Hopefully, we can put ourselves in a good spot throughout the weekend and be around somewhere at the end of both races.”
HAS THE NEW CHASE FORMAT CHANGED THE DYNAMIC OF RACES?
“I think last week was a prime example of what the new format has brought forth. Just for the fact that we had run pretty much a whole fuel run at Darlington and we had eight of the first nine cars, I think, I don’t know that number for sure, but there were a tremendous amount of the first 10 cars that put two tires on knowing good and well that wasn’t the right thing to do as far as making your car run as fast as it could. People are just trying to take chances to get that win and I think for us we have been I guess like a Ricky Bobby scene, we have been first or last. There has really been no in between. The performance of the cars has been really good and obviously we have had some problems, but it’s just one of those deals where being the point’s leader and having points is really irrelevant at this point. You just go out and try to put your best foot forward every week to get a win and protect yourself as much as you can with as many wins as possible is our goal at this point to get into the first rounds because the bonus points matter at this point.”
DO YOU GET TO THE POINT WHERE RACING IS JUST FUN AND THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN THE SUCCESS COMES? ARE YOU FEELING THAT NOW MORE?
“I have been having fun the whole off-season and year. We have had some weeks that things didn’t exactly go our way, but there are a lot bigger challenges than a broken part on a race car. We put it all back together and we come back the next week and we know our cars have been running well. That is really what keeps you going is when you are really capable and in our opinion winning every race that we’ve been in so far. Obviously, those wouldn’t have worked out and didn’t work out, but the performance of the car has been there. That keeps you going and that makes enthused and everybody is getting along and having fun and to me it’s like I said at Darlington I think the character of the team has really been tested as we went through the first eight weeks. I think everybody did a good job of not points fingers and not getting overly mad at anybody it was just things were happening and we had to continue to do our jobs and that to me is one of the best things that came out of the first week was just seeing what the character was of our race team when the chips were down.”
WHAT IF QUALIFYING GETS RAINED OUT TODAY? WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY?
“Rain, I mean we are going to practice so qualifying is going to happen right off the bat here in practice. Turn your TV one because the qualifying session – to me the rain didn’t look that bad on the radar, but if it rains, it rains, and practice will be over.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE CHEMISTRY WITH YOUR TEAM IN YOUR FIRST YEAR WITH STEWART-HAAS AND HOW YOU HAVE GELLED TOGETHER SO QUICKLY?
“Well I knew a lot of the people I was going to be working with on the driver side before I got there. That part was really done before we even started. Rodney (Childers, crew chief) and I we spent a lot of time together just trying to figure out if this is what he wanted to do. I had committed a long time before that so we felt that myself and Zippy (Greg Zipadelli) and Tony (Stewart) and Brett (Frood) and everybody felt that Rodney was the guy. It was just convincing him to make it happen. It’s hard, I lived it. I lived the same things he was going through when I had to make the decision as to what my future was going to hold. It all worked out and in the process we got to know each other really well. Still as we go through the weeks you still learn stuff about each other, but we learned the foundation about each other pretty early on as we went through that process. I feel like the relationship between all the guys is really good and strong.
“We have been on both sides of it like I said a minute ago we have been on both sides of having success and we have been on the sides of seeing that success fail. Whether it’s your own doing or a part failure it doesn’t matter when you are in position to win races and something on your car breaks or something happens everybody feels like crap regardless. It’s a huge test for everybody as you go through those moments, but the character of the team is there. Everybody gets along well and nobody really gets wound up. I think a lot of that starts by Rodney. Just because his demeanor he is so low emotion as you go through any situation. Whether you are winning or losing he doesn’t get wound up.”
DO YOU AGREE WITH THE CHATTER THIS WEEK THAT STEWART-HAAS RACING HAS BEEN ONE OF THE BEST ORGANIZATIONS OF 2014 DESPITE THE BUMPS IN THE ROAD?
“I think as you look at the organization I think we have a lot of room for improvement still a lot of new things that are happening. Obviously, we have been through eight weeks and we know that there are a lot of things to work on and improve on that is exciting just for the fact that we have been able to run well with our car. Kurt (Busch) has won a race and Tony (Stewart) has been knocking off some top-five’s so I think as you look at everything from the outside looking in I’m sure it appears that everything is going well and everything is going well, but from the inside I just feel very strongly that there is a ton of room for improvement with a lot of things so we just have to keep working and not sit on our hands. Whether you win or lose on Sunday or Saturday night in this case you go back to the shop and you analyze your race just as if you had run 20th. Because that is what you have to do in order to come back because everybody in this garage is going to do the same thing. We have to keep building and I think (Greg) Zipadelli and everybody at SHR has done a great job with everything that they have taken on over the past few years. Gene (Haas) has given the resources from a financial stand point to do the things that we have done in a short amount of time. Just a lot of things that need to get a little bit better, but they have done a great job of building a great foundation.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR NATIONWIDE CAR FOR THIS WEEKEND?
“It’s hard to tell. There is not a car here that is going to drive good all weekend. They are all going to feel like crap. Just for the fact that the tires wear out. It’s a tough place to get your car to feel really good. We will just have to make our car drive better than everybody else’s. Yesterday we had two good practices so hopefully that translates to tonight.”
IS THERE MOMENTUM TO APPLY HERE TO THIS RACE TOMORROW NIGHT? WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT YOU LIKE?
“Well this has just been a great race track for me just for the fact that for whatever reason it has fit my driving style through the years. I grew up on a lot of flat, worn out race tracks and my days at RCR we spent a lot of time on our flat track program and short-track program. My driving has become accustom to these types of tracks. As far as the momentum we won Phoenix early in the year and we had six very bad weeks finish wise after that. You just ride the wave as long as far as it will take you and the last wave was really short. So you don’t want to get your hopes up you just want to do your job and hope that things keep going well.”
YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE ALWAYS LIKED THIS RACE TRACK. HOW DOES THAT PROCESS WORK AS A DRIVER TO WALK INTO A NEW TEAM WITH THEIR NOTES, YOUR NOTES, HOW DOES THAT GO IN THE MEETINGS?
“Well I told them in the first meeting that we should never lose a short track race. They all kind of looked at me like I was crazy. For me it was exciting just for the fact that I have seen the success that Rodney (Childers) had on the short track stuff in the past with his previous organization. I know that Kurt (Busch) runs well and Tony (Stewart) runs well so you put all that stuff together and see the success that we have had here in the past from my stand point with winning races and running good you are just excited about the short track races. Really excited about every race, but the short tracks in general because just because I know and I’ve seen the effort that they put into the cars and every part and piece from a weight stand point. It’s fun and everybody expects to run well.”
COMING BACK HERE BRINGS UP MEMORIES OF WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST SEPTEMBER. DO YOU THINK THE GARAGE HAS MOVED ON FROM THAT OR THAT IT LINGERS AND IS STILL TALKED ABOUT OR THOUGHT ABOUT WHEN WE COME BACK?
“I think everybody has moved on. The repercussions I feel like MWR is probably still feeling those just for the fact that it was a bigger hit to their organization than anybody else. I think you would be silly to not pay attention to what had happened and understand the reality of situations of what could be lost by handling something wrong. I’ve handled a lot of situations wrong maybe not something to that magnitude, but it’s still kind of a wake-up call to everybody to understand that there is a lot of money and a lot of people watching. The perception of your actions sometimes can be taken to the extreme and the repercussions of that can be very extreme as well. I think everybody has to keep that in mind. I think everybody has pretty much moved on and understands that the lesson was learned.”
DO YOU HAVE A SENSE OF HOW GROUP QUALIFYING WILL TAKE PLACE AT TALLADEGA? DO YOU GUYS DREAD IT AT ALL?
“I thought about just going home and starting in the back. It’s going to be exciting to say the least. There is only one way to get a good lap and that is to catch the pack and have four or five cars lined up behind you. We have already kind of experienced this once and that is when we went to Talladega last year. I believe it was the first race when everybody knew it was going to rain on qualifying day. It’s just going to be getting that spot where you get the best pull up to the pack for one lap to where you can time it right and not have to let off for a pack of cars or something like that. It will be interesting and it’s just kind of a crap shoot just like the race, but it will be exciting for sure. It will definitely be better than watching three and a half hours of one car going around the race track, I promise you that.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE POTENTIAL REDUCTION OF HORSEPOWER NEXT SEASON?
“I saw some of the – I didn’t see it I heard about some of the Michigan stuff from when I believe they put a plate on Trevor Bayne’s car at the tire test in Michigan. The part that everybody is forgetting here, there are two parts to this problem. There are two parts that the less horsepower problem will create. One is the engines are the most expensive things that we do. There are very few engine manufacturers as we sit in the garage right now. When you start messing with the engines the costs go up really fast. I believe that our garage is very vulnerable at this particular point from a cost stand point. I believe that NASCAR in general has to keep the cost involved from where we are and the timing of engines, whether you put a plate on it, whether you put a throttle body on it, whether you change the cubic inch, no matter what you do the cost of those engines is going to go up if you change the rules. I understand there is a safety concern, but when you slow the cars down the center of the corner speed is going to go up.
“Because you are going to be able to carry more speed through the center of the corner because you have a slower car, so when you start messing with the engines the costs are going to go up because everybody is going to do more R&D. And you slow the cars down the center of the corners are going to go faster so you create that problem then you are going to create another problem for Goodyear because the cars are already really fast so you are going to have a cost problem and you are going to have a tire problem. Good luck with that from a changing the rules stand point. Obviously I’m a big fan of it (laughs).”