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Year in Review: Coming up short prompts change for Harvick

December 16, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Coming up well short of championship again prompts change for Harvick

Kevin Harvick didn't even need to reach the closing races of the 2011 Sprint Cup season to know he'd "seen this movie before." And Harvick didn't even need to wait until after the Homestead season finale to know he needed to do something about it.

"When you look at the results that we've had over the last couple of years -- they've been good," Harvick said. "Obviously, we've had good results but in the end, we're here to win a championship and do the things that it takes to do that."

"We lost our consistency throughout the whole year, as we went through the regular season and into the Chase."


2011 Statistics

WinsFirst 26Last 10
Laps Led33271
Avg. Start19.417.3
Avg. Finish11.611.2

Finishing third in the championship for the second consecutive season, according to both Harvick and his owner, Richard Childress, was unacceptable. And so in short order after the season closed, Harvick had a new crew chief for 2012 -- his former Nationwide Series chief mechanic Shane Wilson.

Gil Martin, who led Harvick to seven wins and a third-place standing in points the past two seasons, moved over to become Richard Childress Racing's director of team operations. And both Harvick and Childress easily defended the move.

"We had an OK year," Harvick said. "I think as you look at the changes that were coming for RCR, in going from four [Cup] teams to three, there were obviously a lot of people that we were gonna change up.

"So I feel like all three teams need to get better and in order for us to do that it can't just be our team here or there, or the 27 team [of Paul Menard] here or there, doing whatever the results are, or taking ourselves in a direction. We need to take ourselves in a direction as a company and I just felt we needed to make some changes in order to do that."

* Caraviello: Sense of urgency for Harvick and RCR

Menard's team remains status quo for 2012, but RCR's third team, for Jeff Burton, grabbed free agent crew chief Drew Blickensderfer from Roush Fenway Racing when that organization also downsized from four teams to three, as Childress had done, due to lack of sponsorship.

That was what enabled Wilson, who'd worked previously at RCR with Clint Bowyer, to join Harvick, with whom he'd won 14 races in two Nationwide seasons, 2006 and '07.

Childress has proven he's not afraid to make changes if he feels they're warranted and reconfirmed at Las Vegas that Harvick wanted this one.

"We got back from Phoenix with Kevin and we talked about changes," Childress said. "We had plans of making some changes -- we always make changes at the end of the year -- and [Harvick] asked for a change at the top.

"We wanted to get him what he wanted there, because he wants to win a championship, and he didn't feel like running third two years in a row was what he wanted to do."

It's unsaid, but Childress feels like Harvick has his best shot to break through for the championship Childress last won with Dale Earnhardt in 1994.

"We've been contenders," Childress said. "We're close [to winning RCR's seventh Cup championship]; we just have to figure out how to close it."

Harvick said, at the risk of over-simplifying things, that he knew what his team needed to do in 2012. This season, Harvick overcame a rough start -- 42nd in the season-opening Daytona 500 -- to move into the top 10 in the standings by the season's fifth race.

Harvick never fell out of the top-10 spots, actually leading one week in the regular season and after two of the first three weeks in the Chase. But that came despite winning only one of the last 24 races of the season, the Chase cutoff event at Richmond.

Things didn't get much better in the Chase as Harvick, after finishing second in the opener at Chicagoland, scored five more top-10 finishes in the last nine races, but only one of them a top-five. In all, he led laps in only five of the 10 playoff events.

* Video: Watch Harvick's speech from awards banquet

"I actually felt like last year's Chase was better for us than this year," Harvick said of 2010 versus '11. "Obviously we achieved the same result, but we have to win more races in the Chase -- obviously that's what won Tony [Stewart, who won five of the 10 Chase races] the championship.

"We lost our consistency throughout the whole year, as we went through the regular season and into the Chase. I think as we go forward you have to have that consistency and you have to win, as well, and in the end Carl [Edwards, who tied Stewart in points but finished second per the most wins tiebreaker] had the consistency but he didn't win, either, and he didn't win the championship."

Harvick won three of the first 12 races and was second in the standings after he won the Coca-Cola 600 at the end of May. But the next 12 races, right up to the verge of Richmond, resulted in only four top-10 finishes.

Harvick thinks he and Wilson can solve the team's issues, coming right out of the box at Daytona's Speedweeks.

"Shane and I have obviously worked together in the past and I know we obviously have a good personal relationship," Harvick said. "I like the way he goes about the leadership and the way he lets his guys do [their] job.

Kevin Harvick: Notes-n-Nuggets

• 35 years old from Bakersfield, Calif..; married to Delana
• Finished third in points in the his 11th full-time season
• Tied his career-best championship finish; also finished third in 2010
• Fifth top-five championship finish
• Started the Chase tied for the lead (Kyle Busch), winning four races in the first 26 races
• Led the standings following three races in 2011
• Four wins in 2011: Fontana, Martinsville (April), Coke 600, Richmond (September)
• 18 career wins
• In the first three of his four wins in 2011, Harvick led a total of only nine laps. Of those three wins, two were last-lap passes
• Season Numbers: 4 wins, 9 top-fives, 19 top-10s, 403 laps led, 1 DNF, finished on the lead lap 30 times, average finish of 11.5 (second-best to Carl Edwards)
• 1998 K&N Pro Series West champ; 2001 Cup rookie of the year; 2001 and '06 Nationwide champion; 2007, '09 and '11 Truck Series owner champion; 2007 Daytona 500 winner
• Sold/merged assets of KHI during 2011

"We have to keep up with the changes of the sport and we have to push forward and hopefully get in front of that learning curve. I didn't feel like [in 2011] we were in front of the curve -- we were just on the tail of that curve and we always need to be the ones pushing forward."

Watch all of Harvick's highlights from 2011 and flip through his year in photos below: