NASCAR Media Conference
February 24, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference, in advance of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race is the Shelby American. Our guest today is the current NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader, Kevin Harvick. He drives No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet for Richard Childers Racing, which has been on a great rebound early in the season. Kevin has finished 7th and 2nd in the season's first two races, the Daytona 500 and the Auto Club 500, great start.
We are going to kick off today's call with a question from a fan on our Twitter account. She mentioned that when the word got out that when Kevin was going to be the guest on today's call, we got a lot of questions, great response from our fans. And we had one from Ashley Hanson in Alabama, and she wants to ask Kevin how he feels how his car and his team are going to be for the balance of the year; are they going to be strong enough to make the Chase, and maybe win the championship. Kevin, why don't you start off with that and then we'll go to the media.
KEVIN HARVICK: Okay. I think, you know, obviously the year has started off good. I feel like we are kind of starting how we finished the end of last year which is a good thing.
So still a lot of unknowns this year, I think you know, through the winning period here at the beginning of the year, I think we are going to be solid week-in and week-out. I still think there's a lot of unknowns as far as what's going to happen when the spoiler gets put on the car.
I feel, you know, we are doing the right things to know what the spoiler is going to do differently for the car, and you know, we have got a couple of tests coming up. So it's good to have been with a team, with Gil and all of our guys are the same from last year, even though I knew most of those guys, it's nice to have a fair amount of time working with those guys and everybody is kind of on the same page working together.
You know, as long as everything keeps going like it's going, I think chances are as good as they have been to do both of those things with the Chase and hopefully compete for the Championship. But, you know, I think it's probably going to be eight or ten weeks into the season until you really know where you stand with the spoiler.
Q. A couple things about the quality of the racing so far and when the spoiler starts to come back. As somebody who has been in the forefront of putting on the show so far, what do you hope and think the fans are seeing as far as improvement of the quality of the racing? And also, even though the spoiler is kind of an unknown, a lot of people feel like at Talladega and places, it's going to really make the shuffle even greater. Do you have any kind of ballpark projections as to the impact the spoiler is going to have, short track, intermediate, but especially at places like Talladega?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I think the spoiler, based on what we have done with the new Nationwide car without the spoiler, I think the closing rate is going to be -- definitely going to be a little bit faster than it is now, even than it was at Daytona with the wing. I know we have a test coming up in Talladega with the spoiler.
So I think we will really be able to tell from there. And based on a lot of the characteristics of what we have done with the spoiler so far, I don't see a lot of the characteristics changing in the car. So I don't think that the style of the racing that we have seen so far is really going to change. Most of that is just going to be the appearance of the car.
But I think the biggest unknown is there's definitely a balance shift as far as aerodynamics with the spoiler on the car and it's just going to be a matter of getting that balance back right with the way that you can -- the small things that you can do with the car.
So I don't think the style of racing that you have seen so far is going to change, and I think the Super Speedway racing should get even better than it was at Daytona.
Q. As far as the actual quality of the racing in the first two races so far, it's hard to tell from the driver's seat, but do you think the fans are seeing an improvement over last year, recent years so far, and the lead changing and the scrambling and sometimes sideways racing?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think the first two weeks have definitely been a huge improvement from what we have been seeing. I think a lot of that is just a lot of the rule changes and things that NASCAR has done. I think the one person that's kind of getting left out of this whole thing that a lot of people are not giving a lot of credit to is Goodyear, just because you have not heard a lot about the tires and you are able to really be aggressive with the car, and tires are not falling off as much as they have been.
So I think they have also, along with NASCAR, they have also done a really good job of really making a real effort in making the tires better than they have done. It's been a constant improvement since they really put a full effort back into that doing that.
Q. You're off to such a great start after such two races, and I've seen quotes from you saying everybody worked hard and everything. Can you just talk a little bit about what was done there to get everybody off to such a good start?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think most of it had happened last year. They obviously moved Scott Miller into the competition director, made a lot of management and structural changes within the organization; as we went from really the early middle part of the season, we got our first generation of new-style cars when we went to Indianapolis last year, and everybody started running a lot better and we started building from there.
You know, at that particular point, the season was kind of a disaster at that point in the year. And that was where we started to turn it around and getting a lot of different cars built. You know, when you start the season and you've got 40 or 50 cars between the four teams that are built in the wrong direction, it takes a long time to get that fleet of cars turned around, and, you know, get a new direction of what you need to do technically with your cars and get your engineering group -- the one thing we haven't had to worry about is our engine group, so that was nice.
You know, it was just a huge task to turn everything around. And I think the management changes have been probably the best things that have happened internally just for the fact that the crew chiefs have Scott to go to; and Scott, he has to balance that fine line of deciding, you know, is that good for performance based upon what we need from a budget standpoint, and that's always the hardest part is deciding how much money you need to spent in order to make your cars run faster.
So unfortunately, it's a money-eating machine to get your stuff turned back around and just to race every week, and you want to function off of a pretty strict budget. But when you are behind, you've got to do what you've got to do to catch back up. And Richard has made that commitment, and our job is to not have so many peaks and valleys. That's the thing that's kind of hindered us in the past.
Hopefully the new management structure can come up with a good plan to keep that going forward, and we can -- you know, when we have the stuff that we need underneath us as drivers, it makes us all kind of look like things are all going really good, and they are. So we have just got to figure out how to just keep that consistent going forward.
Q. When you look back on things last year, the struggles, did that period kind of give you a different type of patience that's helping you kind of keep things in their proper balance now, and I guess what do you think the team has learned from that now that these are back on the upswing?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I've been through a couple of those periods. I've been in RCR and we have always rebounded. I think that the biggest thing that everybody learns from it is you still just don't like to run like that. It's more embarrassing from everybody's standpoint; it's not just from the driver's standpoint. Everyone gets frustrated pretty easily.
So I think, you know, the best thing that came out of that is still all of the management and structure changes internally. You know, as we move forward, you've just got to kind of forget what happened last year to a certain degree, but you have also got to remember it so that you can try to prevent that from happening again.
And a good plan usually helps prevent a lot of that from going -- from happening again, and I think that's the biggest thing that comes out of that is, you know, just remember what you did to get yourself into that funk and try not to let that happen again.
Q. As a follow-up, do you feel like the team kind of had to go through those things to avoid stagnation, you know, be reminded that as good as things are, sometimes you have to, I guess, take a step back to maybe go two steps forward?
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, the model that you base yourself off that's so successful is obviously the Hendrick organization. I think they are always -- they always seem to be one step ahead of everything that's happening. In order to get to that level, we have to figure out exactly what we need to do consistently to keep pushing things forward, and I guess the hard part is to continue working in every area and work within your budgets and work within all of the things that come with running the race team in order to be successful going forward.
But we have done a really good job of catching up and we have done a really good job of making our stuff competitive again. But you saw how long it took, and it took six months to really get things -- seven months, to get things back where they needed to be. So you can't go through those cycles, and you have to get that consistency. And when you get behind, it has to be a little bit behind and you can catch right back up, and you know you can run 10th to 15th instead of 25th to 30th. Those are the things that we have to continue to work on, and those are the things that everybody has been working on and trying not to let happen again.
Q. You've had a good start to the year and you're leading after two races; given the Chase format, is it any more or less important to get a win early in the season now?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think, you know, obviously we have been pretty fortunate to run like we have at the beginning of the year. We started off with a bang with the Shootout, and lost the qualifying race by a few inches. Had a shot at Daytona and had a shot at California last week, and that's really all you can ask for as a team and a driver and everybody is just to have a chance.
You know, you've got to -- you've got to go out and win races to do what you want to do to get the bonus points and things you need for the Chase. I think that definitely matters as you get into the last ten weeks.
You know, I think we have done a good job of turning everything around, and now it's our job to capitalize on the moments when we have the opportunity to win races. You've got to win a couple of them. So it's not -- it's definitely not the end of the world that we didn't win, but we definitely want to win more than we don't, that's for sure.
Q. I know you don't like talking about your contract situation, but I can't help think as we are all writing about this and speculating about it, it's almost the exact same scenario to me as 2006 when your contract is up. And all of a sudden you end you have driving the fastest car in the garage it seems like. Do you see similarities there, too?
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, we are just going to go out and do the things that we have been doing and race as hard as we can. They can worry about all of that stuff.
Q. Can you describe your relationship with your over-the-wall guys and maybe your old crew and how you build a relationship with the new guys, the over-the-wall guys?
KEVIN HARVICK: We have had a lot of change over the past year, I guess you could say, with the over-the-wall guys, and it's a constant evolution of where people are, and our guys have done a really good job this year.
The guys I had before I had for several years, so you definitely develop a relationship with the people over time. And that's been one of the hoops we've kind of had to jump through is getting to know everybody's names and who everybody is.
And with all of the change, it makes it even harder, because some weeks you show up and you have two different people or three different people on the pit crew. And I feel like now, I think everybody has kind of found a balance and you start to develop those relationships as you get into the weeks of the season.
But the core group in the garage has been pretty consistent, so I feel like everybody gets along well there and it gets better every week.
Q. Not having won in three years, with your current extra pressure, do you feel extra pressure to get a win, or how do you cope with it if you do feel with?
KEVIN HARVICK: I mean, we've won a couple shootouts and All-Star Race and Daytona 500, so it's not -- you don't force those things. Just go out and you race. You race as fast as you can and those things come as they happen. So I learned a long time ago, you don't force those things.
Q. Do you feel like you walk under a ladder or anything when you see things like what happened last week with Jimmie Johnson?
KEVIN HARVICK: Nah. I have been around the stuff long enough now to where you go out and you race as hard as you can and sometimes you win a bunch and sometimes you don't.
You know, when the cycle hits, I think with the way that the cars are running now, there's no need to force them, because they are going to come naturally.
Q. Did you sense that the RCR teams were coming around before they did, and does your -- you have pretty good experience now as an owner; does that give you a stronger sensing skill?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think the team, like I said earlier, I think the team has started to kind of turn a corner last year when we got to Indianapolis. Obviously we didn't have the consistency that we needed to because it was kind of sporadic because of who had what kind of car and where you got to race them because we didn't have very many.
But I think as we got towards the end of the year, there was one, if not two of us, who would run good every week. Once they had time to sit down during the winter and get everything squared away and go through throughout the notes and know exactly what you needed for cars and what bump stops you needed to be on and what you needed to do for qualifying, I felt like a lot of that started last year.
So we are just riding a lot of the things that have been in motion for a long time, and you know, you can -- if you just were around the track, you could really sense the fact that the cars were running a lot better and everybody was headed in the right direction, probably three quarters through the year last year.
Q. Where does Vegas stack up now in terms of compared to other mile-and-a-halfs? As you all continue to race there, how much more maturity has that track gained and do you start to get a feel to that one -- do you use that track to get a feel for other tracks or kind of the other way around?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think Vegas has kind of become a unique racetrack, just for the fact that it's pretty rough and it still has a lot of grip. You know, it's more like -- it's more like a Charlotte than it is anywhere just for the fact that it's got the same type of asphalt, just a lot rougher surface.
So it is kind of unique just for the fact that it's route really, really high speed but it's really rough for a null-paved racetrack.
But it's been really racy the last few years just for the fact that you can run high and you can run low. It's hard to tell when you only race at these racetracks once a year, because you don't really know what the grip level is going to be from the age of the racetrack since you were there last. You just have to feel your way through that as you get to practice and see where lap times fall.
And this was really the first track last year that Goodyear brought their low stagger tire, too, and that's like when everybody felt like the cars were a little more comfortable and you could be more aggressive. I know they are bringing the same stagger tire back with a couple small adjustments; I don't know if it's construction or compound. But it's a fun racetrack to race with a lot of speed, and I think it will be much of the same this year.
Q. There's been some speculation I guess about you running the full Nationwide schedule this year. What are those plans? Are they somebody that they are going to change at some point, or do you want to run the full season? What's going on?
KEVIN HARVICK: We don't have -- our intention is not to run the full season at this point.
Q. For Bristol it was announced earlier today that they are extending the SAFER barriers in turns two and turns four by about 80 feet in each turn and they are saying it's going to make the track a little more narrow right there than it already is. Without having run on that, do you have any idea how that might affect the racing there?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, the track's become so much easier to drive, you know, since they have changed the racetrack. You really didn't -- you really didn't even use a lot of the exit of the corner. Probably where I think you're talking about, they are extending the wall, so it really shouldn't affect a whole lot from a driving standpoint. So I don't see much of a change there other than the soft wall being out there. I don't think it will be that big of a deal.
Q. You mentioned earlier about racing for the money -- as an owner in the other series, I wonder if that makes you have a little more understanding about when teams want to spend money or drivers need this and need that, and the owner has to say, wait, we have to be careful about what we are doing here.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I think on the Cup side, it's different. You've got to be -- I mean, you are going to waste some money, for sure, just keeping up on the R&D side and the engineering side. And you're going to have a lot of things that are developed that you think are better and it's kind of in that gray area in the rule book and NASCAR will say, 'That's not going to work,' and sometimes you're way down the road.
On the Nationwide and the Truck side, you have much smaller budgets, and you know, a lot of the times, you don't have those big R&D projects going to try to project things forward. The Cup Series carries a lot of the things forward, and then they trickle down into the Truck and Nationwide Series.
So most all of the progression for all three series in the sport comes from the Cup Series, and that's just because they have -- you have to, you have to do R&D projects and you have to try different things in order to keep up with the Joneses, I guess you could say, to be competitive.
So you're going to wind up doing a lot of projects and you know, they are not going to be able to be used, but you have to do those things in order to be competitive.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us. It's always a pleasure to get your help on these calls. Best of luck this weekend and the rest of the season.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|