News & Media


Harvick hoping to be happy after NASCAR's 600

May 29, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- Richard Childress was asked the other day what he thought of Kyle Busch's recent speeding incident.

"Actually I don't have a dog in that hunt with Kyle Busch," Childress said. "But I have a dog in another hunt with him -- and that hunt is not over yet. I'm looking forward to our other hunt."

"There is not really a given weekend now that we go to that I don't feel like we can show up and turn it all around and win the race."

--KEVIN HARVICK

Well, the Richard Childress Racing driver who recently was involved in that other implied hunt with Busch -- Kevin Harvick -- took a more diplomatic approach to his rival's off-the-track controversy and admitted he's going to be on an entirely different hunt of his own during this Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Harvick is on the hunt for the strong finish that has eluded him in NASCAR's longest race for nearly a decade. He hasn't had a top-10 finish in the Coca-Cola 600 since finishing second in his very first Coke 600 in 2001.

"Well, we've won at a lot of places we haven't won at lately -- and I think as you look through even last year, we did the same thing," said Harvick, who won back-to-back races at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana and at Martinsville Speedway earlier this season. "So there is not really a given weekend now that we go to that I don't feel like we can show up and turn it all around and win the race."

Harvick wasn't necessarily happy after Saturday's final practice for the Sunday race. His fastest lap of 182.352 mph ranked 27th on a speed chart that was topped by David Reutimann (184.483 mph), followed by Marcos Ambrose (184.143 mph), Paul Menard (184.093 mph), Busch (183.799 mph) and Jeff Burton (183.767 mph).

But Harvick's crew chief, Gil Martin, said he believes he knows what the main problem has been for the No. 29 Chevrolet team in past Coca-Cola 600s. The race starts in the twilight at 6 p.m. and finishes in the dark as much as four hours or more later.

"I think it's just a course of going from day to night, we haven't been able to get the balance that we really need for late in the night," Martin said. "And the early stages of that race are the most critical because that's when so many people struggle the most and everybody who does goes a lap down. So I think that's where the frustration comes -- at the beginning of the race. That's where we probably haven't done the job we've needed, practicing in the daylight and adjusting to what's going to come in the night. We've been too concentrated on how the race was going to end.

"I think we've changed a lot of our approach on that for this weekend. And I think the other night in the [All-Star] race helped us a lot -- because we tried a different setup the other night. It's something we're going to apply to this week and I think it's going to help us."

Harvick finished ninth out of the 21 drivers who competed in last Saturday night's Sprint All-Star Race on the 1.5-mile CMS track. Martin said he has concentrated more on helping his driver get off to a better start in this Coca-Cola 600.

"I think probably in hindsight, after we've done the opposite a couple of times, we've seen there is so much more focus we need to place on the beginning of the race," Martin said. "We need to build more adjustability into the car that maybe we haven't had the last couple of races here.

"But honestly, in the fall race here, we had a good run going until we had a flat [tire] at the end. I think we were going to finish fifth or sixth. So it's just sometimes that we've run well into the night here, but our finishes just haven't been what we need to have."

Martin said the wins earlier this year at the tracks in Fontana and Martinsville, where in the past Harvick did not traditionally run so well, have helped the entire team's confidence heading into this Sunday's race at CMS.

"It hasn't been one of our strong points -- just like Fontana wasn't and Martinsville wasn't, and even Michigan last year," Martin said of the Charlotte track. "Those are all places where traditionally we hadn't run very well, but we tried some different things and they worked out pretty good for us. We just have to get out of the realm and do some different things we haven't done in the past as some of these places."

Martin said getting better at all tracks -- and peaking toward the end of the season on the tracks that make up the Chase for the Sprint Cup -- are keys for the No. 29 team.

"I think it's what you have to do to contend for a championship," Martin said. "And one of the other things we have -- I don't want to say it's been a luxury or anything else, but winning the two races back-to-back early this year have allowed us to try some things at tracks we're going to be going back to in the Chase. And maybe we can hit on something, where when we go back it's not such a panic of trying to hit on new things.

"At Dover we kind of did that, and we were going to have a good finish if the cautions had played out differently at the end. We're already looking forward to coming back here in the fall after this race -- because I feel like we'll be way ahead of where we were last year, just because of some different things we've learned, some different setups that we've tried."

Meanwhile, the challenge of Sunday's 600-mile race is clear. It starts in the heat of the day and ends at night, with the grip level on the track changing dramatically as the temperatures change. And it is so very long and demanding in every way, both on driver and his equipment and even his pit crew.

If you don't get off to a good start, though, you very well might not be around to challenge at the finish.

"That's what makes this race what it is," Martin said. "If it all started in the night, it would still be a good race -- but it wouldn't have the drama that it has now. Because right now, those first two runs that we have to make in the daylight are so important. So incredibly important. Because what generally happens is so many people are conservative on their initial setups that there aren't a lot of cautions that happen -- and if you don't get your setup right, the leader will put you back to about 18th place and a lap down in a hurry."