DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Harvick has always been a driver with a fierce attitude and determination. He isn’t afraid to show that on the race track that makes him a perfect fit for his new team owner, Tony Stewart.
Both are similar in their approach behind the wheel of a race car. They can be friendly rivals with other drivers off the track but don’t really care if they don’t make friends during a race.
So after 12 successful seasons at Richard Childress Racing that included a victory in the 2003 Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the 2007 Daytona 500, Harvick is ready for the next phase of his career at Stewart Haas Racing.
The hard-edged Harvick joins fellow edgy racers Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Stewart at the four-car team that will capture plenty of attention this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series beginning with Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500.
Harvick is the only member of Stewart Haas Racing that has won the Daytona 500. Stewart, Busch and Patrick are all winless in the signature race on the NASCAR schedule.
He finished second in a thrilling three-wide finish at the checkered flag in Thursday night’s Budweiser Duel at Daytona but his finish was disallowed after the rear track bar split did not pass post-race technical inspection.
So instead of starting fifth on Sunday Harvick will have to pedal his way from the 38th starting position in the Budweiser Chevrolet. In a race where drafting is so important, however, it really doesn’t matter where a driver starts at the restrictor-plate race track because with the right strategy and drafting partner he can draft his way up to the front in the 200-mile race.
“We’ve had two good races this week; our cars have been fast,” Harvick said. “We’ve been able to run up front and lead some laps and do the things we need to do.
“On Sunday we just need to do the same thing and keep it rolling for 500 miles. I think when you get more cars in the pack; it’s going to be a little more intense than what it was (Thursday night). It was obviously a great finish. But I just had to go whenever the pack bunched up and decided to make a move like that. We made it just a touch too late to be able to get the last side draft by Matt there at the end. So it was a good race.
“I think we’ve all done a pretty good job at tearing a few things up along the way so far. I think everybody was a little bit conservative. I think obviously there were only 18 cars in the Unlimited and we tore the whole field up. I think everybody wanted to do what they had to do to get the best finish that they could. Obviously those of us running up front tried to win the race. It just didn’t time out exactly perfect.”
Although his finish was disallowed his performance on the race track served as a good opportunity to determine how well his car will perform in the Daytona 500. And for drivers who were already assured of a starting position in the Daytona 500 that is the value of competing in the 150-mile qualifying race because it gives them a good indication of what to expect in the big race on Sunday.
“We just had a three‑wide finish for the win,” Harvick said. “I guess if you guys don’t like that, we’ll have to try something different.
“I think when everybody gets antsy and wants to go, you can group up and go.”
After a near-three month break between the end of last season and the Speedweeks it didn’t take Harvick long to get up to speed once he hit the track at Daytona. He finished fifth in the race where only eight cars were running at the finish.
“The good news is this year is that I’ve been in the car a fair amount as we’ve gone through the offseason,” Harvick said. “We’ve probably been in the car eight or 10 days throughout the last couple of months. You just take your time. There’s no reason to take too many chances as you move into Speedweeks. I’ve laid in bed sick and watched my car get wrecked and seen wrecks and been involved in wrecks. A lot of them have happened in that first practice.”