Right Place At The Right Time

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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. - Timing is probably one of the most overlooked pieces of the restrictor-plate racing puzzle. Being in the right place at the right time to take the checkered flag is something that the Dale Earnhardt Inc., organization has mastered in recent years, but that could soon be over. Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet Monte Carlo, is emerging as one of the strongest contenders to knock DEI from the top of the superspeedway mountain. Just look at the numbers.

Over the course of the last five restrictor-plate races, Harvick has been just as dominate if not more than the Dale Earnhardt Jr./Michael Waltrip tandem. The 2001 Winston Cup Rookie-of-the-Year scored three top-five and five top-10 finishes since last year's Daytona 500 while Earnhardt Jr. amassed three top-five and four top-10 finishes and Waltrip accumulated two top-five and two top-10 finishes. Harvick has the highest average finish of the three at 5.2, followed by Jr. with 9.4, and two-time Daytona 500 champion Waltrip at 15th.

What's eluding Harvick and Team GM Goodwrench that the DEI drivers seem to always get their hands on, is that prized superspeedway victory. Combined, the two have racked up four of the last five, including a sweep of Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in 2003. As the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to the biggest track on the circuit for Sunday's Aaron's 499, the Bakersfield, Calif., native looks to make it his turn at the front of the freight train when the checkered flag flies. And that could be just a matter of timing.

No. 29 GM Goodwrench driver Kevin Harvick on Talladega...

What are your thoughts on this weekend's race?

"We're thinking that we've got a great chance to win. You know you have to miss the big wreck and that's probably the biggest thing going in. You know you have a fifty-fifty chance of being in the right spot. If you can have a good car and keep yourself in position at the front of the pack, then usually you can miss that wreck. But sometimes, that's the start of the wreck. In the last couple of years, Talladega and Daytona have been good racetracks for us. This race last year we finished second to Jr., so we're looking forward to going back. RCR always puts a lot of effort into these programs."

How is Talladega different from Daytona?

"Talladega is a lot wider. There's no handling involved, it's just pretty much pedal to the metal and go. You try to trim the car around as much as you can to try and make it go as fast as it can. It's so wide you can run three and four-wide pretty easily. That could create a problem if the racing is as boring as it was in Daytona earlier this year."

How confusing does it get with the yellow line rule?

"On the yellow line rule, I treat it as a wall. I can't control what happens with everybody else and the balls and strikes calls just happen the way that they see it. We'll just have to play our own game and see how it shakes out. I don't know how they're going to score 43 cars that are three-wide and decide who's in front of whom. They've told us from the beginning that it's going to be kind of a working process. We'll just have to play it by ear. A lot of it is going to depend on us (the drivers), I guess, playing fair - which doesn't happen very often. It's one of those deals where if it's not toward the end of the race, it's not that big of a deal because you're going to get shuffled around anyway."

Can you prepare for the fuel mileage game?

"That all comes from the shop. You prepare as good a fuel cell as you can. With the smaller fuel cells, you have to make a lot of pit stops. We'll try our best not to get caught in the pits out of cycle like we have the last couple of restrictor-plate races. That's really frustrating because we were running so well in both and had a chance to go for the win."

How important is it to have a solid sponsor like GM Goodwrench behind you?

"It's very important. We're very fortunate to have GM Goodwrench at RCR and KHI to back our two programs and all the sponsors we have like Hershey's and ACDelco. Without all those things, you can't go test. There's a lot of fat that you waste in racing. You have to try things and ninety percent of them don't work. If you don't like the body on a brand new body on a car that costs $14 or $15,000 and 12 days to build, you come back and you cut it off. Without a good sponsor, you can't do those things. You just basically throw those man-hours and effort into the trash. It makes it nice that we can go test and do the things we need to do with GM Goodwrench and Chevrolet backing the Truck and Cup programs."

No. 29 GM Goodwrench crew chief Todd Berrier on Talladega...

What's missing from that first superspeedway win?

"I would say just being in the right place at the right time. Harvick's been there at the end, we just can't get out in front of those DEI guys. We're taking the same car that we ran at Daytona this year and both races at Talladega last year. Talladega is all about pure speed. You don't have to worry about the handling much at all, just stick on the body you got. It's more about the horsepower. That will make the biggest difference."

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