Lessons Learned

As difficult as it may seem to believe, it’s been almost an entire year since Kevin Harvick has been to victory lane in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

After a standout rookie campaign – one in which he was virtually forced into one of the most difficult situations you can imagine – Harvick and his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team have suffered through the proverbial sophomore slump.

And how.

There have been run-ins with various drivers on the track. He’s been suspended by NASCAR. He’s been much maligned in the media. And to top it all off, Harvick has gone through a change in crew chiefs and teams at RCR.

The telling tale in all of this is that, nearly halfway through the Winston Cup season, Harvick is unexpectedly sitting 30th in the points standings and is without a victory – certainly not what anybody around the NASCAR circles had anticipated for the budding superstar.

“There’s a lot of different scenarios you can point at,” said Harvick, who finished ninth in the Winston Cup standings a year ago after taking over for the late Dale Earnhardt in the GM Goodwrench Chevy, following Earnhardt’s death at Daytona. “Whether it is right or wrong, nobody knows.

“We got behind. Those guys aren’t used to being behind at RCR, and they’re used to being somewhere at least close to the front, and we’re sitting back 30th in the points. They take that pretty personally.”

Harvick’s second season in the Winston Cup Series has been tumultuous at best, and has been a struggle from the outset. He qualified on the outside of the front row at Daytona in February, only to get involved in an accident that relegated him to a 36th-place finish.

It wasn’t until the fifth race of the season, at Darlington, until he finished better than 19th (third at Darlington), and the very next week he had both an on-track and off-track confrontation with Greg Biffle during and after the Busch Series event at Bristol.

Harvick was put on probation by NASCAR for his actions, and after a 25th-place finish at Texas, he got into more trouble at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for his actions following, of all things, the Craftsman Truck Series event.

Harvick was suspended by NASCAR for the Martinsville Winston Cup race for the standard “actions detrimental to the sport,” a suspension that is rarely seen in the Winston Cup circles these days.

On top of that, his on-track performances weren’t improving as the next eight races saw him finish 27th or worse seven times.

Since his suspension, Harvick has been less visible both personality-wise as well as performance-wise. That, as well as a lack of performance from the No. 31 team – with driver Robby Gordon – prompted team owner Richard Childress to make many personnel changes within the RCR organization.

In June, Childress paired Harvick’s crew chief, Kevin Hamlin, with Gordon, and sent Gordon’s crew chief, Gil Martin, over to work with Harvick. The two teams also switched the majority of their personnel.

“The last couple of months I had to just sit back and not saying anything about anything and just avoided everything that was going on, and just to concentrate on our race teams and our people and really making sure everybody understood where everybody was coming from,” Harvick said.

“There’s a lot of fair-weather people that were around us, around our group and all of a sudden things go bad and it’s just amazing how people don’t come around anymore,” Harvick said. “I think myself, even Richard, have learned a lot from the situation. It hasn’t been a career year in the stat books on the racetrack, but it’s a career year for us personally. To know who we need around us and who we don’t need around us. And that’s important in this sport.

“Richard (Childress) and myself and all the guys have just kind of been sitting back and laughing about everything that’s been written and going on, and we’re just really taking it and putting it in our back pocket and moving forward. We’re really going to climb the mountain and get back to the top of it.”

Various published reports have had Harvick and Childress feuding, and some have gone as far as to say that Childress would not renew Harvick’s contract at the end of the season.

Harvick said nothing could be further from the truth, and that he’s looking forward to a long stay at RCR.

“We’re getting ready to extend our deal with Richard,” Harvick said. “Never once have Richard and I been angry with each other. Everything is really stable and really solid, and we’re all in this together.”

The last couple of races have seen a glimmer of hope for Harvick and his GM Goodwrench team. He finished 14th at Sears Point in late June, and came home 11th at Daytona in the Pepsi 400 after winning the first pole of his Winston Cup career.

“Everybody has stepped up, and that’s a sign of good things to come,” Harvick said.

Harvick returns this weekend to the site of his last Winston Cup triumph – Chicagoland Speedway. He led 113 laps on his way to a dominant victory in the 2001 Tropicana 400.

Harvick certainly hasn’t had much to celebrate this season, and perhaps this season has taught the 26-year-old a few lessons in life. No one has ever doubted Harvick’s talent nor the talent of the team around him, it’s just that sometimes you need to get knocked down a few times to get back to the top.

Look for Harvick to start making his way back up the Winston Cup ladder the second half of the season, and it all starts at Chicago this weekend. Don’t be surprised if he’s celebrating in the Windy City again.

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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