Kevin Harvick stands in Victory Lane next to the championship trophy after winning the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, in Daytona Beach, Fla.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
Sunday, February 17, 2013 12:30 pm
Harvick opens final season with RCR with a victory
By JENNA FRYERAP Auto Racing Writer
The team has 38 final races together and plans to get everything out of each one of them.
"That's one for the lame ducks, right?" Harvick said after taking the checkered flag in Saturday night's exhibition Sprint Unlimited. "It's just a matter of how many we can get."
Harvick is moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. He made the decision more than a year before he'll leave the team that hired him in 1999.
He didn't want news of his departure out too early, and when it leaked last November with two races remaining in the season, it could have disrupted his final 13 months with RCR.
Instead, Harvick went on to win at Phoenix the same weekend his news broke for his only victory of 2012. Now he's opened his "lame duck" season with his third win in the opening race of Daytona Speedweeks in the last five years. Harvick is tied with Tony Stewart and Dale Jarrett with three wins in the exhibition, but trails all-time leader Dale Earnhardt's six victories.
Harvick isn't thinking of this year as a farewell tour with RCR, and insisted crew chief Gil Martin and the No. 29 team are focused on winning races.
"It's our jobs to control the atmosphere and the things that go around. The atmosphere is great, honestly," Harvick said. "Everybody is just working toward the same goal, that's winning the races. We have to be professional, anyway, whether it's lame duck or not. You can call it whatever you want, we're going to have a helluva lot of fun racing, having a good time, doing our jobs.
"That's what we're here to do. (Martin's) job is to put cars on the race track. My job is to drive them. His job is to make sure they run as fast as they can. So as long as everybody does what they're supposed to do, we're all here to do a job and we have a responsibility to the people that are spending millions of dollars on the (business) side of that car to do it as best we can."
Martin has had his share of bumps with Harvick during his multiple stints as crew chief for the temperamental driver. But the duo is determined to have a peaceful year.
"This (job) is too hard to be miserable," Martin said. "It's too hard of work not to come out and try to win. That's not in (Harvick's) nature. That's not in our team's nature to try not to win. Anybody that thinks just because of what the situation is that anybody's going to lay down, they're sadly mistaken because we're going to try to win this championship. We're going to put forth the effort."
Harvick, who has 19 career Cup victories at RCR, has never finished higher than third in the final standings. He's made the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship the last three seasons, and six times in the nine years since it debuted in 2004.
That inconsistency and inability to win a Cup title in his 12 seasons has been frustrating for Harvick, and led to a revolving door of crew chiefs on the No. 29 the last several years. As Harvick went winless through the first 34 points races last year, it made sense to look around even though his contract ran through 2013.
He settled on a move to SHR, where he will drive for good friend Tony Stewart and get a chance to see if a fresh start will push him to the top of the series.
In the meantime, RCR in October hired Eric Warren to fill the director of competition role left vacant since Scott Miller went to Michael Waltrip Racing near the end of 2011. Warren's addition has helped RCR get back on track in areas the organization had fallen behind, and has contributed to the Zen attitude on the 29 team.
"We went and hired these psychiatrists to tell us what we need to do, now we call them engineers," Harvick joked of the behind-the-scenes changes at RCR.
"Eric and all the crew chiefs, the engineering staff, the amount of effort that Richard has poured in from a financial standpoint to a people standpoint, getting organized, there's a lot of effort making sure the cars are prepared better. There's a lot more structure and engineering that goes into these cars nowadays than what there used to be. Today when we were struggling with our car, there's people with notebooks and iPads, computers. They're standing around talking about what everybody else has on their cars.
"It's pretty fun to see, see them all put everything together to try to fix a problem."
And it's got Harvick determined to close his tenure at RCR on a high note.
"Pride also comes in there pretty good," he said. "It's fun to prove people wrong."