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Caraviello: Harvick, Edwards trying to beat Johnson at his own game

September 10, 2011, David Caraviello,

RICHMOND, Va. -- Harvick, Edwards cutting back to put more focus on Cup efforts

For Kevin Harvick, it came down to a business decision. Despite the successes he was enjoying operating a fleet of Camping World Truck Series entries -- and there was plenty of success, to the tune of 39 race wins and a pair of championships -- the gratification wasn't enough to justify the headaches it was causing and the money he was putting into it. And so when Harvick decided to consolidate his Nationwide efforts at Richard Childress Racing beginning next season, one of the flagship programs on the Truck circuit became a casualty.

This wasn't about a lack of money, a lack of sponsorship, or a lack of performance -- the Kevin Harvick Inc. vehicles had all that, to a large degree. This wasn't about the usual troubles some NASCAR team owners have keeping their organizations afloat. No, Harvick is shifting his Nationwide interests to RCR, pulling the plug on his Truck operation, and selling his shop and equipment for a much larger reason: to sharpen his focus on winning the Sprint Cup title.

Switching gears

Kevin Harvick has moved his Nationwide team to Richard Childress and will close up KHI's Truck operation as Harvick focuses solely on a Cup championship.

"This is no knock on anything, but really the only thing that I want to do that we have not been able to accomplish in my career is win the Cup championship," Harvick said Friday morning. "Cup cars make it all go around. Richard and I have talked about this a lot. Without the Cup car being successful on Sunday or Saturday night whatever the case may be, Trucks don't exist, Nationwide cars don't exist, and the sponsors aren't there. We are lucky that the sponsors are all there and things have gone good over the last several years, but that Cup championship is what we're after."

Harvick's announcement comes a few weeks after Carl Edwards reiterated his plan to run only a few races next season in the Nationwide tour, a circuit on which he's essentially competed full-time for seven years. In that instance, the rationale was the same: "I want to focus solely on the Cup Series and get the championships that I feel like we can earn if I give it enough focus," Edwards said two weeks ago at Bristol. None of this should come as a surprise, given that the driver who has dominated NASCAR's premier series the past five years -- and is alone atop the standings once again entering Saturday night's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway -- got there, in part, by doing exactly that.

When it comes to the race track, at least, Jimmie Johnson has no outside interests. He rarely competes on a lower series -- his Nationwide start last month at Watkins Glen was his first foray below NASCAR's Sprint Cup division in three years. He's been presented with ownership opportunities in everything from motocross to off-road to NASCAR, and passed on all of them. He doesn't have to cut short Saturday debriefing sessions with crew chief Chad Knaus in order to jump in another car. He doesn't have ownership stresses. Johnson does one thing, and he does it exceptionally well, and that approach has netted five championships, 54 race victories (to this point) and an unshakable reputation as one of the best to ever slide behind a steering wheel.

So perhaps it's not wholly unexpected that two of his biggest rivals for the Sprint Cup crown -- Edwards finished second in points in 2008, and Harvick third last year -- would take a more Johnsonian approach to catching him. In fairness, neither driver specifically referenced the Johnson model in their respective announcements. But here you have one guy cutting back on ownership to put more focus on his Sprint Cup efforts, and another cutting back on Nationwide involvement to put more focus on his Sprint Cup efforts, and a five-time champion who's gotten there by focusing only on his Sprint Cup efforts. It's not out of the question to think that one may have been influenced by the other.

"It might [have]," Johnson conceded. "Guys are aware and pay attention to what's going on around them. There are times I sit on my bus watching a Nationwide race, and I know what took place in practice before, and I see Kevin or Carl or Kyle [Busch] really fast in a Cup car and dominating in a Nationwide race or a Truck race. I sit there and think maybe I should be doing what they're doing. ... It's just what works for you. At times you can blame it on certain aspects, maybe not being focused. At the same time, you can turn around and say I learned something running in that series. The one difference that Kevin and also Kyle have is owning. That is a whole other lump of whatever to deal with. Driving is one thing, but, owning, man that's just tough."

"It is the only thing I have ever done, so it is very possible that next season when I cut back on the Nationwide Series that we could do much better."


Which Harvick and Busch -- the latter of whom suffered through serious sponsorship travails trying to get his Truck program up and running -- can surely attest. Even so, just driving can be all-encompassing, too, especially at a track like Richmond with so much on-track activity compressed into about 12 hours. Edwards woke up Friday, put on the wrong firesuit, and then spent the day running from one garage area to the other. Those are the times when he thinks he'll benefit from his reduced workload next season. At other moments, though, he believes he's benefitted from his double duty.

"It is the only thing I have ever done, so it is very possible that next season when I cut back on the Nationwide Series that we could do much better," Edwards said Friday. "I could perform better, but I don't know if that will be the case. For me, I see it as a positive thing. It has been seven years for me running both [circuits], and the first couple of years especially I needed those races on Saturday. I needed the track time and to make the mistakes that I was making. Still lately, speeding on pit road, over-driving the car a little on Saturdays -- those mistakes that I have made in the last month or two, I feel like they have helped me to learn what I need to do for Sunday."

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Ryan Newman, who has competed in just one Nationwide and one Truck race this season, and would like to do more. "This is what we love to do," said Newman, who added he wouldn't mind running a dozen or so extracurricular events a year if the opportunity arose. "There's a way you can get burned out on it if things don't go well. But there's also that extra enjoyment you get out of it when they are. It's a little bit of a risk-reward situation, but sometimes it's just time for a change or time to mix things up or cut back. From my standpoint, I'd like to add on. I'd like to do some more of those things."

Given Johnson's success, though, it's difficult to argue with the assertion that less is more. The driver of the No. 48 car learned from one of the best -- Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who almost a decade ago cut things like the then-Busch Series and the old International Race of Champions out of his schedule to focus on the Cup circuit and his off-track interests. When Johnson arrived at NASCAR's top level, Gordon advised his one-time protégé to minimize distractions whenever possible. Although Gordon is the listed owner of Johnson's Sprint Cup entry (a title that comes with no day-to-day responsibility), has dabbled in real estate and oversees a robust philanthropic operation, he quickly learned that he had little interest in racing around the clock.

"The guys that are the racers, they go and race three times a weekend, I applaud them. I think that's very cool that they take the time and put that kind of effort in, and I love to watch it. It's just not me. It's something that I really never had any interest in doing, and when I did do it, I said, 'why are they doing this?' Because it didn't make any sense to me to run back and forth from the garage area, and it was very much of a distraction," the four-time champion said.

"So the guys that do it and do it successfully, I really give them a lot of credit for it, but it just doesn't work for me. Everybody is different, and it's a routine. Whatever routine you get into that works for you, then great. That's different, driving the cars on the weekend then owning and driving them. That's a lot of stress. The Truck Series is a tough business, especially when you do it to the level of what KHI was doing. They're building top-notch quality trucks, and it costs a lot to do that, and it's tough to recoup that investment."

And yet, money isn't necessarily the reason Harvick is reducing his ownership responsibility to just a percentage interest in two Nationwide cars at Richard Childress Racing. It's also not the reason Edwards is scaling back his Nationwide involvement to only a fraction of what it has been. They're doing it to improve their chances of overtaking Johnson for the Sprint Cup championship -- and, consciously or not, they're moving closer to a method time-tested by Johnson himself.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.