Harvick Fastest At NHIS

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While the majority of Winston Cup drivers – and certainly most of the Cup title contenders – are taking the weekend off for Mother’s Day, Kevin Harvick is doing his “other” job.

On Friday, Harvick spent his day at New Hampshire International Speedway practicing and qualifying for Saturday’s CVS 200 Busch Series event.

Harvick, who holds a 41-point lead over second-place Jeff Green in the series standings, wasn't just spending a day at the track, either. He won the pole for Saturday's race.

"The car was real good from the time we unloaded it, we just tuned up the engine a little and made one small adjustment before qualifying," Harvick said. "We worked on race setups most of the day and only made a couple of qualifying runs towards the end of the practice session, but we mostly concentrated on race stuff.

"We learned a lot (testing) at Nazareth last week and fortunately we were able to use most of that setup here and it worked itself out."

Green, who has finished second the past two years at the 1.058-mile oval, qualified second and knows how important qualifying up front is at NHIS.

"Kevin ran an awful good lap and it was gonna take something special to beat him," Green said. "The most important factor to success at Loudon is track position. The best way to get track position is to start up front. It will be especially important this year since Goodyear has such a great tire. Using the right pit strategy will be key and having great pit stops, which my Nesquik Racing pit crew does every week, is the best way to charge to the front."

The pole was Harvick’s third of the year, and he has one win and nine Top 10s to go along with that.

Starting the CVS 200 third through 10th on Saturday will be Steve Park, Jason Keller, Ryan Newman, Mike Skinner, Kevin Lepage, Joe Bessey, Andy Santerre and Kenny Wallace.

Harvick obviously isn’t the only Winston Cup regular ready for some success this weekend at NHIS with Park, Skinner, Lepage and Wallace also in the field.

“Things will be a lot different racing the Busch car here and I’m not sure what to expect,” said Skinner, who has four Top 5s in only five Busch races with the No. 21 team this season. “A lot of variables have changed in both cars so it will be interesting. The last race ran here was with restrictor plates, and the Busch cars were running with a lot less horsepower. This year, these guys have a lot more horsepower. The cars should be a lot closer to each other.”

The mood at New Hampshire this weekend has been a bit somber considering this weekend marks the first anniversary of Adam Petty’s fatal accident at the track. It’s something the drivers – though concentrating on getting their machines the best they can - say they can’t get out of their minds.

“It’s already playing a little bit in my mind, and it’s going to be a tough thing,” said Hank Parker Jr., who qualified 19th on Friday and who won in the Busch Series for the first time a couple of weeks ago in California. “It’s not easy. There’s not many days that don’t go by that Adam Petty doesn’t cross my mind, but our job is to drive race cars, and that’s what we do. I really like this race track. It’s very unfortunate that those things took place, but hopefully we’ll have a good safe clean race.”

Parker, who moved to the Cicci-Welliver team this season, is steering the same car that Tim Fedewa used to win the pole and race at New Hampshire last season. Fedewa qualified 25th on Friday.

Green says he’s going to try to focus on the positives about Petty.

"I think Adam would not want us to look back at that day and remember it negatively, but rather remember the great things that made him so special,” Green said. “Even though he was 15 years younger than me, I looked up to him. I know I'll never forget what a special person he was and that great smile of his. He was the only person I've ever met that truly lit up a room when he entered it. I miss him in everyday life, but I really miss seeing him race in that No. 45 car."

Having no Cup event this weekend brings the spotlight on the points leader Harvick and his goal of running full seasons in both Cup and Busch. He’s enjoying his week off from Cup, and eager to get some revenge at NHIS.

"I really enjoy Loudon,” Harvick said. “We ran well there last year and we had good runs in the trucks, we just had some bad luck hit us in every race that resulted in only one top-10 finish for us. Last year in the Busch race, we cut a left-rear tire after running in the Top 3 all day. That got us a lap down and we were never able to get it back even though we did have one of the best cars."

Entering this season, Harvick had designs on winning the Busch Series championship in only his second year in that division while making seven Winston Cup starts to prepare for his entry the next year into NASCAR’s upper division.

His schedule, however, was tragically altered in February when his Richard Childress Racing teammate, Dale Earnhardt, was killed during a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500.

In the painful days that followed Earnhardt’s death, Childress was forced to make some tough decisions. Who would he get to take over in place of Earnhardt, one of the greatest drivers in the history of Winston Cup racing, in the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet? Would Childress go with a skilled veteran, or perhaps take a look at a young up-and-coming driver with a bright future?

Ultimately, Childress came to the conclusion he would move Harvick, the driver of his No. 2 AC Delco Chevrolet in the Busch Series, into the Winston Cup ride. So instead of having to worry about just the Busch Series crown, Harvick is now trying to become the first driver in history to win the Winston Cup and Busch Series titles in the same season.

At almost every track this season, Harvick has run back and forth from the Busch garage to the Winston Cup garage during the weekend. For the most part, his performances have been admirable, and his success in both series speaks for itself. Harvick won in only his third Winston Cup start, at Atlanta, and is 12th in the points. He leads the Busch Series standings and has one victory – at Texas – to his credit.

Without question, Harvick’s determination and stamina has left quite a lofty impression on some of his fellow competitors.

“I feel like Kevin has done as good a job as anybody could have asked him to do,” said Green, the defending Busch Series champion. “It takes a lot of effort to run in both the Winston Cup and Busch Series, but Kevin has really stepped up to the plate and shown a lot of maturity. That takes a lot of time and hard work for him to do both, but he’s doing a great job so far at both of them.

“I wouldn’t want to do it myself. The seven Winston Cup races I’m racing for Richard Childress this year is plenty. To me, that’s plenty enough to keep me busy so that I can still concentrate on my Busch car, which is my bread and butter. Kevin is working under a different set of circumstances, and I’m sure he wants to win the championship in the Busch Series and do as well as he can in the Winston Cup car. It’s going to be tough on him. I’m just glad I’m not in his shoes.”

Things will get tougher over the next few months for Harvick, and fatigue is bound to set in. He has vowed he won’t miss a Busch race and will be there at the end for a run at the championship, despite his Winston Cup duties.

That means he’ll be doing a lot of flying over the next few months. Next weekend will be his first test, when he’ll bide his time between Charlotte - the site of The Winston for the Winston Cup cars - and Nazareth, Pa., the site of the Busch Series event.

The weekend of June 16-17 he’ll have another bump in the road, when the Busch cars run at Kentucky Speedway and the Winston Cup cars are at Pocono, Pa. Yet another challenge will be to run the Pepsi 400 at Daytona on July 7, only to turn around the next day and participate in the Busch Series’ only road-course event at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

That scenario will happen three more times throughout the year, with the toughest test undoubtedly coming the week of July 28-29, when the Winston Cup Series is back at Pocono. That same weekend, he’ll have to fly across the country to Fountain, Colo., and Pikes Peak International Raceway for the Busch event.

When asked what’s the biggest lesson he’s had to learn this year, Harvick thinks for a minute before breaking out in a smile.

“Time management,” Harvick said. “Plus, I’ve got a whole lot more critics now.”

Harvick says he doesn’t think his splitting time between the Winston Cup and Busch Series garage areas has done anything to hurt his performance.

“It really helps for me to be driving the Busch car,” Harvick says. “I think that’s a big part of our success, and I’ve proven I can be aggressively patient. Now I just need to learn how to play the game. To be honest, I enjoy being in the car so much right now that doing both divisions doesn’t bother me. When I’m in the car, I have so much fun because that’s time for myself. I get to be in two cars, so that’s working me double time.

“But it is nice when you can climb into the car and get the chance to remember why we’re all here. Dale Earnhardt is the reason I came to Richard Childress Racing in the first place. I didn’t research anything because I wanted to be Dale Earnhardt’s teammate. He was the best that there ever was and I wanted to learn how he did it. Anybody who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand our sport.”

Harvick is smart enough to know that, along with the responsibilities of stepping up into Winston Cup, those duties are amplified because of the tragic circumstances that allowed him the opportunity.

“It’s one of those things we can’t change,” Harvick said. “I’m just trying to be myself. There’s a huge responsibility that comes with having that GM Goodwrench logo on the side of my car, whether anybody likes it or not. Running as well as we’ve been running has been a pleasant surprise to me. I read in the newspaper the other day where we had a car that was capable of winning, but we didn’t have the finish we should have.

“That’s just how this sport is, but for me missing a race and being 12th in the points is pretty darn good. We’ll just keep digging and trying to gain points every week. This is the most competitive team you could ever hope to be around, and they expect you to go out and win and do good.”

Through almost three months of racing, Harvick has done very little to disappoint his fans and teams from both divisions.

And he’s yet to complain of exhaustion from the rigid pace he’s set for himself. Time will only tell if he’ll be able to keep it up… and keep his points lead.

"It's pretty cool (to have the points lead), but then again it's sometimes easier to chase than it is to be on top,” he said. “It would be nice to have a couple hundred-point lead as opposed to just 41. We'll just try to build on it."

Win and Leave: Jimmy Spencer, who dominated and won last week’s Busch race at Richmond, is not competing this weekend so that he may be home for his son’s birthday. Veteran racer Kevin Lepage is filling in for Spencer at NHIS in the No. 1 Yellow Racing machine.

Name Game: The Chevy Ashton Lewis Jr. is driving this weekend is named "Titus Plummeritis". The car is named after one of comedian Jerry Clower's characters created after a guy he had played college football against. Clower described Titus as the "runningest thing he'd ever seen" and the Lewis Motorsports team hopes for similar results this weekend. Lewis Motorsports also raced Titus at Darlington and Bristol this season.

Highs and Lows: You could say Mike Skinner’s first time at New Hampshire was full of highs and lows. He won the pole for the inaugural truck race in Sept. of 1996 and went on to lead nine laps before succumbing to engine trouble and finishing 27th.

Video Practice: It's been a month since Clay Rogers competed in a Busch Series event, so how did he practice for his run this weekend in the No. 17 Visine Chevy? During his down time, the 20-year-old rookie has done everything from studying Reiser Enterprises' race tapes from New Hampshire and Nazareth to driving mock races at those tracks on his personal computer. "I went to Loudon and Nazareth on the computer," Rogers said. "It helps me get a better idea of what it will be like there. Since I've never raced at either track, I'm doing my homework to best prepare myself for those tracks."

First Timers: Don’t be surprised if the winner Saturday has never won at NHIS before. In the 14 Busch Series races held at NHIS, no driver has ever won twice.

Race Center

Food City 300

@ Bristol Motor Speedway
Friday, August 22, 2014
Radio Start:
PRN
TV Start:
ESPN, 7 p.m. (ET)

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