Harvick: I Love This Track

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Usually it takes a driver a few years to get excited about coming to race at Bristol Motor Speedway. That’s if the driver EVER gets excited about it.

While the racing is fast, close and exciting at the “world’s fastest half-mile,” it’s inevitable there’s going to be a lot of bent sheet metal during a 250-mile or 400-mile event there.

That doesn’t bother Kevin Harvick in the least. Between the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series, Harvick has only four career starts at the high-banked, .533-mile oval, yet he has already taken a shine to the place.

In his first career Busch race there last year, Harvick finished 26th in the spring, but rebounded with a win in the Food City 250 there in the fall, leading all but nine of 250 laps.

He returned to Bristol this weekend to participate in both the Busch Series Cheez-It 250 and the Winston Cup Series Food City 500. On Friday, he won the pole for the Busch event and qualified third for Sunday’s race.

“We’re looking forward to these races,” Harvick said. “It’s probably my favorite track on the whole circuit. We won a Busch race there last year and we’ve always run well here in the truck and the Busch car. I love racing here.”

Harvick’s first NASCAR start at Bristol came in the truck series in 1998, when he finished 22nd. The following year he finished sixth in the truck race, the last NCTS event held at Bristol.

Whenever Harvick has “stayed out of trouble” at Bristol, the results have been favorable. If he hasn’t been able to do that, then the results are less than desirable.

In his first Busch start here, last spring’s Cheez-It 250, he was caught up in a 14-car mess on Lap 215. The damage to his car put him 22 laps down to the leaders and he finished in the middle of the pack.

“The best way to avoid any mishaps at Bristol is to stay up front,” said Harvick, who qualified third in the spring and won the pole for the fall Busch race last year. “You really can’t dodge trouble completely because there’s so much going on.

“You’re always on top of the steering wheel and there’s such tight quarters that even if you’re leading the race, you can wind up in trouble. Staying up front is the key to staying out of trouble.”

Harvick equates Bristol with his hometown track, Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., a half-mile venue he raced on when he participated in the NCTS.

“A lot of people think I’m crazy when I relate it (Bristol Motor Speedway) to Bakersfield, but if they understand what it takes to get around that little track, they would understand what I’m talking about,” said Harvick, who enters Saturday's race third place in the Busch Series standings, 51 points behind leader Jeff Green. “I’m not going to give away the secret, I’m just going to keep it to myself.”

The rookie phenom will make his first Winston Cup start at Bristol Sunday in a car that has enjoyed a lot of success over the years at the short track. Dale Earnhardt, who formerly drove the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet, earned nine of his 76 career Winston Cup victories at Bristol, several in thrilling fashion.

Harvick has handled the rigors of both the Busch Series and the Winston Cup Series well since taking over as the driver of the GM Goodwrench Chevrolet following Earnhardt’s death at Daytona. Harvick is 13th in the Winston Cup standings despite having missed a race.

Earnhardt was always a focused driver at Bristol, and that’s one of the characteristics Harvick has displayed in his first four Winston Cup races.

“I’d like to compare him (Harvick) to how he drove the track (Bristol) last year,” said team owner Richard Childress. “He was aggressive when he had to be. He was patient when he needed to be.

“Right there at the end, we had a red flag with four or five laps to go, and man, we didn’t need that. But he was just calm and cool. That’s what you’ve got to be at Bristol. You can’t get excited. And he (Harvick) really did a great job last year and we’re looking forward to this race.”

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