News & Media

Problem areas fixed, Harvick looks to postseason

July 05, 2012, Bill Kimm,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- You wouldn't know it by looking at the standings, but Kevin Harvick has had some issues the past few years on his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team he wanted addressed ... and fast.

"Obviously we had to get better," Harvick said Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

Coke Zero 400

Practice 1
2.M. Ambrose201.37444.693
3.J. Logano201.12244.749
4.R. Newman201.06844.761
5.G. Biffle200.93344.791
2.M. Waltrip197.73345.516
3.Ku. Busch197.45945.579
4.T. Kvapil197.42545.587
5.A. Almirola197.41645.589

It's hard to comprehend. Harvick finished third in points the past two seasons and looks like a lock for his third consecutive Chase berth. He is currently sixth in points, has three top-fives, eight top-10s and just one finish outside the top 20. But for a two-time Nationwide champion still looking for his first Cup title -- third just isn't good enough.

"We've worked through the pit crew stuff, we've worked through qualifying stuff, we've fixed some problems that we felt like we needed to get better on from previous years," Harvick said. "Those two are definitely better than they've been in several years.

"As we move toward the next nine weeks, we basically got nine weeks to try and secure our space in the Chase and nine weeks to fix the mistakes and make up some ground on the performance side."

Those nine weeks kick off with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona -- a track at which Harvick has had some success. He is a Daytona 500 winner and a July race winner just two years ago. With just two DNFs and an average finish of 15.0 in 22 starts, Harvick has avoided the trouble that plagues so many at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

And for the first time in what feels like a while, Harvick and the rest of the Cup Series field will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. There are no changes to the car, no rule changes to bring a level of uncertainty to an already wild 400 miles.

"It's kind of been interesting to see the progression of the way that the rules have gone," Harvick said. "This has been the least amount they've changed since we've gone to this particular rules package. Hopefully we've done a little bit better on our cooling system this time and we can push things a little bit harder on the race track. I always say you have a 50/50 chance of having a good day. Usually if you finish you have a good day on these particular kinds of tracks."

Harvick's weekend at Daytona hasn't started out particularly strong. He was 28th fastest in the first practice with a speed of 197.006 mph, nearly 5 mph slower than the Richard Petty Motorsports duo of Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose, who paced the first practice and were two of four drivers to eclipse the 201-mph mark.

Speeds diminished considerably in final practice as did the field size. Harvick joined 20 other drivers and skipped final practice as half the field hit the track and the other half decided one practice was enough.

"Unless there is a major rule change, you can just line up a 30-minute practice for all divisions and everyone would be fine with it," Denny Hamlin said. "Nowadays, people are just trying to minimize their risk [at Daytona]. They want to race the car they unload as a primary and the more you are out there, the more chance there is that you're not going to do that, especially on a track where you are running so close to each other."

Of the drivers who practiced, Jamie McMurray paced the 65-minute session with a lap of 197.837 mph. Michael Waltrip was second-fastest at 197.733 followed by Kurt Busch (197.459), Travis Kvapil (197.425) and Aric Almirola (197.416).

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With a 62-point advantage on Carl Edwards in 11th, Harvick has a solid grasp on an automatic Chase berth, but it's not a lock. On top of that, Harvick joins Martin Truex Jr. as the only drivers in the top 10 without a victory, which would put them last when the 10-race postseason begins in September.

So Harvick is in a conundrum -- does he go for race wins but possibly lose points with the aggressiveness? Or does he play it safe, post consistent top-10s and let the points fall where they fall?

"I think as much as we complained about the results and the way things have gone, we still have to remember we still have a good chance to make the Chase sitting sixth in the points with a fairly good sized points gap over 11th," Harvick said. "We don't need to go out and do anything crazy. As you look towards the next nine weeks, for us we are trying to avoid big mistakes and give away big chunks of points.

"The winning side of it, you can't force those things. As you go through the years you understand the more you try to force situations the worse the results get. Those things go in cycles. Last year we had some things go our way and we won some races and we won a couple that were circumstances and the circumstances that we have had this year haven't gone that particular direction. It's just something where you ride the waves and try not to let the lulls tear everything down and as you're in the highs you try to enjoy them."

Make no mistake, while Harvick isn't focused on "just win, baby," he wants to be in Victory Lane ... and soon. He won four races last year and didn't win the title; he won three in 2010 and also came up short. The soon-to-be-father knows wins equal championship and while his team has improved, there is still work to be done.

"We complained a lot about needing to get the cars better, but we've done OK at salvaging while things haven't been where we think they need to be. So we have to keep fixing things," Harvick said. "Like I said, the pit crew is doing a great job, we fixed the qualifying side of it, we're consistent but not consistent where we need to be in being able to win a couple races. That's the main focus right now, just get a little speed out of the cars, be prepared and not screw up over the next nine weeks."