Bires / Wimmer Here
Kevin Harvick by Fr. Dale Grubba
When Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart confronted each other on the track and in the trailer many waited to see how NASCAR would react. Would they come down hard or display leniency? Were they going to fulfill a promise made at the start of the season to let drivers express themselves? Many drivers are skeptical.
Last year, at Watkins Glen, Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya were involved in a confrontation and NASCAR didn’t fine either of them. Was it a sign of things to come?
“At the moment I was pretty pissed,” Harvick recalls when he was asked about the incident during the Lowes Motor Speedway Media Tour. “I felt like I restrained myself more than I would have seven or eight years ago. I think I’ve always been true to who I am and what I felt. I think a little bit of pushing and shoving doesn’t hurt anybody. It happens in football games all the time. It is always good to talk a little trash.”
Does Harvick know where the line is and when he has stepped over it? “I think that line is no different than what you would get put in jail for on an average night, or day.” Then he smiles as he reflects on the line he has just uttered. “I think that is a pretty good line, I think, isn’t it? That is the line I’m going with. If it won’t put you in jail then it’s probably good enough to get away with at the track!”
Does it depend on the cop? “Well, you never know what cop you are going to get,” Harvick retorts.
Is there a point where Harvick consciously thinks he shouldn’t say something? No. “Maybe some people do, but I guess my adrenalin flows a little bit too high, especially 10 or 15 minutes after a race. Anytime after that I might think about what I would say, but at that given moment I don’t.”
As far as NASCAR’s position on letting drivers speak their mind, Harvick has his own opinion based on his years of experience as a race driver. “I think it is one thing to speak your mind,” he philosophizes, “but it is another to speak your mind and not have anything to really talk about. I think that’s how it was at the beginning of my career. I just kind of blurted out stuff that didn’t make a whole lot of sense and stirred up a lot of controversy.
“I think as we become older we all mature, whether it’s in our job or personality. You learn how to deal with certain situations. Sometimes it’s better just to keep your mouth shut.
“I don’t have answers for all the things that frustrate me. If you don’t have the solution for something you are going to gripe about, there is no reason to gripe. If you’re mad at somebody there is a certain way to approach it. I think you learn that as you get older and mature.“
Asked to talk about his maturation, Harvick begins with the days he roomed at Ron Hornaday’s house in 1997. In 1998 Harvick moved to the Craftsman Truck Series driving the #98. He stayed at Hornaday’s house every time they were on the east coast. In the meantime things began to evolve with Richard Childress with Hornaday acting as the broker.
“Now I walk into my shop every day, I walk into the RCR shop, and I think back, especially when I’m having a bad day, and think the progression of my career is pretty amazing. I started at RCR. My first race was the Fall race at Talladega in 1999. This will be my tenth year at RCR. It’s pretty amazing what we have been able to accomplish in that relatively short amount of time.”
One of the high points was coming out of nowhere to beat Mark Martin at the line in the 2007 Daytona 500. Was it really a victory snatched out of the blue? Harvick looks at it differently. “I’ve led other races with up to 20 laps to go,” he rationalizes, “and wound up in a 20 car pile-up. I’ve been on both sides of it. The way we won the race (The 2007 Daytona 500) was pretty spectacular coming from thirtieth with 20 laps to go. That’s how we do things.”
Harvick compares it to racing a go-kart in the backyard. “It’s all about trying to figure out how to get to the checkered flag first.”
In this case it was Mark Martin, whose career is coming to an end without a Daytona 500 win or a championship. Did Harvick have any qualms of conscience as he took a last minute win from the venerable veteran?
“You have to feel sorry for Mark,” Harvick believes in his heart. “I think Mark Martin is one of the greatest drivers that will ever come through this sport. He doesn’t have a Daytona 500 or a championship. To be the guy that takes it away from him…,” Harvick’s voice trails off. “You have to have a soft spot in your heart for him. But in the end the competitor in you overrides your heart. It’s all about winning.
“The way we won it was cool in itself. Even if it hadn’t been the 500 it was just a cool, cool finish. It was kind of how we won our first race, just without the big wreck.”
Harvick struggles to describe what it is like to win the Daytona 500. “You always tell people winning the Daytona 500 is the biggest thing in this sport,” he states. “You try to tell another driver who hasn’t won the Daytona 500 and they look at you like ‘I wonder what he means.’ Just the amount of exposure that comes from that one particular race is incredible. It’s really cool to experience it without someone else having to tell you.”
Does winning the Daytona 500 make whatever else happens in the season insignificant? Not for Harvick. “After we won the Daytona 500 my wife said that no matter what happened during the rest of the season I had won the Daytona 500. I could never make myself come to that. I guess it is the competitor in me that says you have to do well week in and week out. I’d just as soon be able to say we won at California the next week.”
Is there anything that compares to winning the Daytona 500? For Harvick any comparison goes back to his beginnings with Ron Hornaday. “It’s nice to see that relationship come full circle and be able to win the Craftsman Truck Series championship with Ron last year. It’s not just about winning a race. It’s more about the people involved in it. To see him as happy as he was and how happy I was and know the effort we put in it together is something you can’t replace. It is pretty special.
“The Hornaday championship is pretty close to winning the Daytona 500. It was so personal. Even winning the Daytona 500 is hard to relate to that. You just don’t often get to give back to somebody something the magnitude of a truck championship like we were able to do with Ron. Winning a race is great, but having friends is even greater.”
It would be hard to surpass that statement. Harvick is hardly talking but having nothing to say. It’s a sign of maturity.
Matt Kenseth By Father Grubba
The biggest change for Matt Kenseth during the 2008 Sprint Cup season will be the fact that Robbie Reiser will no longer be his crew chief. While Reiser moves on to other managerial tasks Chip Bolin will take his place on race weekend.
When asked how long it would take to build a comfortable working relationship with his new crew chief Kenseth says he hopes it takes none at all. Chip has been with the team since its beginnings in 1999 as an engineer. When Reiser was absent for a few weeks during the 2007 season it was Chip who filled in and did an excellent job of calling the races from the pit box.
“I don’t think it is going to be a huge change,” says Kenseth. “Certainly the personalities are different, but Chip has been a part of the team, part of making the cars run since 1999. I don’t think the performance part will be hurt at all.”
Is a good working relationship between driver and crew chief instantaneous or is it something that can be built over a period of time? When asked Kenseth replied, “I think it is pretty instant. If it doesn’t work right away it is not going to work. That is one thing I’m not nervous about because Chip has been with us the whole time. I’m comfortable with him and he is comfortable with me. He is more than capable.
“When I started with Robbie I didn’t know I was going to win Busch races or get to where I’m at. After an hour of practice I knew it was going to work with Robbie. Up to that point I had run only one other Busch race and that crew chief and I butted heads. He wouldn’t listen. I was just a dumb driver. Robbie was just the opposite. He’d listen to everything I’d say. He’d think about it and give me suggestions. We both had some give and take involved. You could tell it was going to work out. It was a total working relationship.
In taking a new position within the Roush organization one of the things that Reiser gives up is the opportunity as crew chief to win a title under the old point structure, as the team did in 2003, and under the new.
“We never really talked about it,” says Kenseth. “We came off the 2002 season with five wins and won the championship in 2003. Since that year our goal has been to win the championship every year. It hasn’t changed. If we didn’t win it has always been a bit of a disappointment but we understand what the business is. I think Robbie and I have walked away knowing we gave it 100% and did the best we could.
“The goal every year is to win every race, but you can’t let it eat a hole in your stomach if you don’t. I give 100%. As long as I can go home at night knowing I did the best I could I’m satisfied. You always want to do better, but you can only do the best you can. If I didn’t have the passion or enthusiasm for what I was doing I wouldn’t do it.”
What are some of the traits that Robbie brought to the team that he will take to the whole organization? “Mainly he is a good organizer and motivator. I think he will run a tighter ship than what they have ever run before.”
Does Robbie’s moving up to be a general manager mean an end to Kenseth’s ability to move from the back to the front during a race as he has done so often in the past? “I think it is a team effort,” Kenseth volunteered. “Some of that looks better than what it is because of where we start. If we are starting on the pole I’m not so sure we’d drop back to twenty-fifth and work our way back up. In the past we have had a knack for improving our cars during the race but a lot of it is because we start back there. At Homestead we started up front and stayed there the whole night because we had a really good car. Now if we started twenty-fifth we might have made our car better but it would have taken 150 to 200 miles to make our car better because you are starting so far back and it is a long ways to the front.”
Another new topic of conversation is the joining forces of Roush Fenway and Yates Racing. Is it a reality or just something on paper?
“It is very noticeable,” Kenseth observes. “Everybody has the same stuff, is sharing all their notebooks. All the cars will be built the same, especially the new car. NASCAR has you pretty locked in when it comes to the chassis. They tell you what frame heights you have to run, where the fuel cell has to be. It is pretty close to a spec car. The car that comes off the jig could be mine or go to Yates. All the cars are the same.”
It was obvious at the start of the 2007 season that Hendrick Motorsports had got a jump on the field with regard to the Car of Tomorrow. According to Kenseth the Roush Fenway organization had a number of things going on that prevented them from doing so. “There was the whole crew chief shuffle a couple of years ago. We had just hired a new head engineer. The people we had were all getting ready to race. We didn’t have the people to test. We had just started to get things rolling.
“You can’t just test for the sake of testing. You can drive around in circles all day and not learn anything. You have to have a plan. We didn’t have the things in place to do it at the time.
“I’m a worst case scenario guy. The damage wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Going into the season I knew we were going to be a few months behind. I thought we’d run worse than we did. By the end of the year we got pretty competitive with them. The last five races I didn’t wreck it or get wrecked by anyone else. We didn’t break any parts or have any flat tires. Our pit strategy was good. All those little things that were biting us didn’t bite us in the last five weeks. I feel good about this year. I think we ended the year strong. We worked hard all winter to get caught up. I feel good about it.”
How does it feel to be the top Roush Fenway car at the end of the season? “I think you always strive to do your best,” answers Kenseth. “You want to win races and championships. Certainly, if you are all provided with the same equipment and under the same roof you’d rather be the team that is best out of five teams than the one that finished the worst. When you’re the guy that is not running as good as your teammates you say, ‘Man, I’m getting all the same stuff. What am I doing wrong?’ So you want to be the guy doing well, the guy that wins it all. That’s what your goal is.”
Matt Kenseth Article 2 By Father Dale Grubba
One of the much talked about items as the 2008 Sprint Cup Series got under way was letting drivers’ personalities shine through. Asked when he was going to get wild and crazy Matt Kenseth said, “This is it!”
“This is you wild and crazy?”
“This is it!”
“I don’t know,” Kenseth went on to explain. “I think everybody was probably brought up different. Some think acting in a certain way is acceptable, some don’t want to be seen like that. They don’t want their friends, kids, grandma, seeing them like that. I think everybody basically is pretty close to being themselves. I’m pretty much myself all the time. I have fun every week, lots of it.”
Another topic is how Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will do now that he has switched to the Hendrick team. Will he make the Chase? Kenseth feels he will do quite well and will make the Chase. Then he adds a personal observation. “Most people, when they do something new run good right away. I have no idea why. Look at when rookies come in. Look at Montoya last year. He almost won Atlanta. It was the third race of the year. Unbelievable! I’m not saying he got worse, but they weren’t as competitive. Weird, how it works. We came in and won in May of my rookie year. We didn’t win a race again for a year and a half. Then we won the 600. How does that happen?”
Now that NASCAR has decided to go to the Car of Tomorrow for the entire season, phasing out the old cars, drivers are asked for their opinions on the move. Kenseth reports that the Car of Tomorrow is “just different.”
“It’s hard to explain. It feels bigger, sits up higher, and travels less. Once we get rid of the other car people are not going to make comparisons as much. The one thing they will begin to compare it to is the competition. It is still a race car. We are still trying to do the same things with it.”
Mixed in with the Car of Tomorrow is an attempt to make racing more exciting and winning back old fans. “The racing has got to be good,” states Kenseth. “There have been some good races last year. Jimmy (Johnson) and I raced to the finish at Texas. Both Daytona races were won by less than a car length. I think there were some great races with the old car. There were some great races with the new car too.
“People said the race at Bristol was boring. The race for the lead wasn’t great. Bristol. Man! If you didn’t watch the lead I thought it was a great race. It was side-by-side. People were scraping the wall and racing all over the track. But it was a different race from what they have been seeing.”
That may have a lot to do with it. In a separate conversation Jeff Burton spoke about the difference between what actually takes place and how people see it. According to Burton there may have been more passes than ever before in the Bristol race but it is a matter of how the fans in the stands perceive it.
Kenseth points out that peoples’ expectations are very high which may lead to another problem. Sometimes a past reputation for being extremely exciting can be a dangerous thing. It raises expectations about the present generation that may have no basis in reality. When that happens, sooner or later someone is bound to be disappointed. That disappointment has its consequences.