News & Media


Shift in position paying off for Harvick

September 12, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

RICHMOND, Va. -- With newfound teamwork and spot atop standings, Harvick ready to tackle Chase

There was an impression around the Sprint Cup garage that the No. 29 Chevrolet team of driver Kevin Harvick had been playing possum in the weeks leading up to last Tuesday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

They won three races early in the season and with the seeming luxury of being locked into the Chase field, crew chief Gil Martin openly admitted that he planned to try some different setups and strategies over the summer. His theory was that it would give him more information and ammunition to use once the Chase commenced.

"A Sunday morning meeting, it'll snap you out of a lot of things. You can jump over Godzilla after you have a meeting with [Childress]."

--GIL MARTIN

They were, or so many people thought, lying in the weeds.

It turns out they were lost in them instead.

"No, we've been trying. We've just run like a crap all summer long, to be honest with you," Martin said.

The crappy streak slowed for Harvick when he finished seventh at Atlanta. It appeared to cease altogether when he won Saturday night's Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

And now, just as the 10-race Chase is about to commence, Harvick's team suddenly is sporting the look and swagger of a true championship contender again.

"We started off the season really well," Martin said. "We had good consistency, good runs, and we were able to put together good runs all day long. ... We got off our game trying to do some things to just win races because I think after we won the three races and kind of thought we were locked into the Chase, we kind of were trying some things we shouldn't have. I think that taught us a valuable lesson through the summer and going into Atlanta."

Going in even

By winning Saturday's race, Harvick locked down the No. 2 seed for the Chase -- which kicks off with this Sunday's race at Chicagoland Speedway. But by virtue of his fourth victory of the season, he's essentially tied with Kyle Busch for No. 1 (Busch technically claims the top seed by tiebreaker, having posted more top-five and top-10 finishes). Both will begin the Chase with 12 bonus points -- three for each race win.

Since the points otherwise are reset on equal footing for the 12 Chasers, that gives Harvick an edge that car owner Richard Childress said was missing from the No. 29 team's efforts to capture last year's championship. Harvick finished a career-best third behind five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, but posted only three victories all season and entered the Chase 30 points behind Hamlin.

Besides, none of Harvick's 2010 victories came during the Chase. Although Harvick did finish the season strong with eight consecutive top-10 finishes, the lack of victories over the final 10 races and the fact that he was behind 30 points before the Chase even started ultimately hurt him.

Johnson won once during the Chase, and beat Harvick by 41 points in the end. Hamlin won twice and edged Harvick, who finished third in points, by only two. Childress pointed out correctly that not only is the playing field completely leveled heading into this Chase -- but that by winning at Richmond, Harvick is showing he's poised to win more races once the Chase commences.

"We got those extra points to put us right up there," Childress said. "Last year that was one thing we were short on in the Chase. We were short on some wins. And now we're right up there with them. So it's up to us to keep it up."

In other words, it's up to the No. 29 team and its driver to continue to contend for wins -- and to win at least one or two more before the lights go out on the 2011 season. It is a contention with which Harvick readily agrees.

"Last year we felt like, as Richard said, that we were a little behind on the win total," he said. "So to be even on the bonus points and the win total [going into the Chase] is a big accomplishment for us. I think the momentum is just as important."

Meeting of minds

Martin traces the sudden but compelling turnaround of the team to a company-wide meeting that was held at the Richard Childress Racing shop in Welcome, N.C., after Harvick finished a disappointing 22nd at Bristol on Aug. 27. The other two teams fielded by RCR also struggled that night.

"We had a huge team meeting on the Sunday after Bristol because we had such a horrendous Bristol race for the whole company," Martin said. "I think we had a great meeting and the whole company came together and we've learned a lot about ourselves in the last two months.

"A Sunday morning meeting, it'll snap you out of a lot of things. You can jump over Godzilla after you have a meeting with [Childress]. It was a pretty inspirational meeting for everybody, no kidding. We went up to all of our people and our people started saying, 'Hey, these are some things that we've changed. Even though they're very subtle, we've changed them.'"

Martin wanted to get things back to more how they were earlier in the year, when Harvick won three of the first 12 races despite leading a total of just nine laps in the ones he won. He and Childress also wanted to get everyone at RCR pulling in the same direction again.

"I think all the managers plus all the people in the shop just got together and decided that we had to put everybody's feelings aside and just do what was best for the company," Martin said. "And that's what we've done. The last couple of weeks, I don't think our company has worked any closer together.

"I've been there for 10 years -- and for the last two or three weeks, this company has worked closer together with everybody and each individual team than we ever have."

The results already are showing, just in time for the Chase.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.