NASCAR Preseason Fan Festival
January 17, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
ANDREW BOOTH: We're joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Kevin, you have one of these, I believe, in your house probably from 2007, so talk a little bit about being back as a returning 500 champion, how the 2009 season is looking to you.
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, it's exciting to be back at Daytona and in the racetrack and hear cars going around the track. It's good to see that trophy. It would look good next to the one I already have in my trophy case.
We're looking forward to getting the year started, and as we come into Speedweeks, I think the enthusiasm is up. I think everybody is excited. I think not having the testing is going to add to -- just that much more enthusiasm leading into the race just because you guys don't have anything to talk about that we did here and the fans haven't seen the cars on the track. So I think that part is exciting, and I think for the race teams I'm really happy for my guys and everything that they've been able to spend some extra time at home. I think that's the hardest part in our sport, that's really hard on the personnel, and for those guys to get to spend a little extra time at home is not something that's a bad thing.
Everything is good. We've made a couple of small changes personnel-wise to our team. We've tried to make just a lot of little pieces better here and there. As you all know, it's a lot easier to take a race team apart than it is to put the last few pieces together. I feel like the consistency was definitely there last year. We ran in the Top 10, Top 5 pretty much for the second half of the year every week, and now we just need to win just like we had in 2006 and the consistency like we had last year, and we'll be in good shape.
Q. When Jeff was in here yesterday, we asked him what was the one thing that his team needed to get over the hump, and he said it was speed, that the cars needed to get faster. Would you agree with that, or do you see something else that it would take for you guys to get to that championship?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I think I would agree with that for the most part. But where to get that speed is the hard part to that answer. We know we need a little bit more speed to lead a bunch of laps and win a bunch of races like we did in '06, and that was how we did that in '06. Our cars were really fast and we dominated at the places where we felt like were our strong points.
Last year was one of those years where we weren't ever really that strong, that the strongest car on those particular weeks where we felt like our strengths were. Just getting that last little bit is what I'm talking about in every category. It's not just one point, but it's not a lot, either, and everybody is doing a good job. It's just a matter of everybody picking up that little bit.
Q. You've seen the economy from more sides than most people. What are your observations and your prognosis on where it's going? How badly has it hit you guys?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, we're in a pretty fortunate position. We've had to work really hard from a KHI standpoint. From an RCR standpoint obviously we've added a fourth team. It's hit everybody. In the end I think it's going to be something that's good for our sport, I think it's going to be good for our country and for everybody involved to tighten that belt, get rid of the fat, run your teams more efficiently. Everybody is looking at every piece of their business right now to make it better, and I think you're seeing ticket prices go down, you're seeing sponsorship values go down, you're seeing team costs go down. As long as everybody can keep up with that effect on everything that's happening in the sport and in the world, because the bottom line is we have to keep up with the world as a sport, and in order to do that you have to make adjustments. Every major company in the world makes adjustments to whatever that particular economy is. If the economy is really good for somebody, it's really bad for somebody else, even when we're in good times.
You know, I finally got tired of hearing my marketing people say, "man, it's just a bad economy." I finally told them, look, guys, you need to readjust the companies that you're looking at. There are people making money right now that need to advertise, and if you go back and you look at -- yeah, I think it was early '80s the last time the economy was really bad, and you see a bunch of different sponsors that were in our sport that are making money right now, whether it's a grocery store chain or whatever the case may be. It's just a different cycle.
And you see that through the race teams, since I've owned the race teams. About every three to five years you see a cycle of sponsors come in and you see some go out. We're in a fortunate position where we've tightened the belts, we've lowered our sponsorship dollars to run our company for less dollars than what we did before without taking anything away from the cars, by realigning people and doing some things different, and hotel costs are coming down, travel costs are coming down. So there's a lot of things that are changing, and it's just a matter of keeping up with that evolution as the economy gets -- hopefully just stabilized is I guess the most important thing for all of us.
Sure, it's going to probably -- it is going to affect the crowds. It's going to affect some of the owners in the garage, it's going to affect some of the drivers, it's going to affect everybody. But I think the most important thing to realize is it's not just affecting our sport. I mean, you look at the NFL playoffs games, it's easy to watch in Pittsburgh and maybe it won't be that way this weekend, but those bright yellow seats stick out like a sore thumb when there's nobody sitting in them and everybody is in black coats. It's not just our sport, and I think NASCAR is doing a good job of trying to make the teams realize, hey, we're not testing for a reason, and don't come to me and tell me that you want to test now and then come to me two weeks later and start complaining about how much it costs to run the sport, because that's not fair. I mean, how do you fix that problem?
So it's tough from an owner's side, and it's tough from a sanctioning body's side, so it's tough from a lot of different aspects. But instead of complaining about it, I wish everybody would just keep doing what they're doing and take a different direction, and I think for the most part everybody is. Sorry to be so long-winded.
Q. To whatever degree you can, and I understand this is a day by day, hour by hour thing, can you lay out your Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide series cars, drivers, sponsors, crew chiefs that you can?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, we'll lay -- obviously Hornaday is in the 33 truck. We'll lay the other truck out Tuesday at the Speed facilities, and we'll lay out some of the sponsorship stuff on trucks. It's going an interesting mix of drivers in the other truck. Obviously everybody knows that myself and Newman and Hornaday will drive the majority of the Nationwide races. But we've replaced almost every sponsor in the company for the most part, and like I say, we'll lay the rest of that stuff out Tuesday for you.
Q. To the same regard, how are things going with Cale Gale as far as your driver development program, and when you're looking at a driver for your driver development program, what qualities besides a guy that can win races do you look for in a driver?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I mean, as far as the development side of it goes, I kind of got out of that business to be honest with you. Cale kind of fell in at the right time and has done a good job. Unfortunately he'll probably be the one that suffers the most from everything we've had to do from adjusting the economy and everything that we've had to do to get the sponsors for the cars and the races that we have.
His races will come down a little bit. But he's still doing a good job, still working hard in the shock room and doing the things he needs to do. He's going to run his late model stuff frequently next year. Hopefully everything turns, and right now you've just got to go with what you can get.
Q. Personally what's the best thing you did during the off-season?
KEVIN HARVICK: I'll tell you, we've been able to do a lot of things that we normally don't get to do. We went to the BCS Championship game in Miami, been to a UFC fight, went to watch Wake Forest and Carolina play last week, and we've got to spend a lot of time at home relaxing in the couple weeks before Christmas. But it's been that same first part of January, doing photo shoots and commercials and all the things that come on the sponsorship side of it. And really the off-season has been pretty busy from the ownership side of it, just trying to make sure everybody is settled there.
Q. How about the football season upcoming? I know you follow that, and I know that the Carolina Panthers being out, do you have any thoughts about that?
KEVIN HARVICK: I'm a 49ers fan so I haven't had a lot to root about this year or the last couple years. I think it's going to be Steelers and Eagles. That's my thought.
Q. I want to ask you about testing, too. I talked to a number of drivers who were testing at places like Rockingham but came back and said, we just did it to bond or we didn't really get that much out of it, or went to Texas World Speedway, track wasn't groomed really or ready. How really effective -- and we're all talking about where everyone is going -- how much of that really pays off?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think a lot of it is the bonding, the fact that everybody just needs to get back in the swing of things and really kind of get in sync. I've been racing my go-kart every weekend since the end of the season just to try to physically keep your neck and things that you can't do in the gym, try to keep that side of it going good.
You know, I think we're going to VIR to go road test racing because I went to the new carbon seats last year and we didn't run them on the road courses, so we're kind of using that as an excuse to get all that stuff situated before it's actually road race season and it's actually time to go to the racetrack and get something out of it. We're going to go to Rockingham and to the short track and get something out of it, more as -- I don't want to call it training, but we do have a couple of new guys on the team, just make sure they fit in the right spot and that you have everything in the new pit boxes and the trailer is full and just everything that you've taken for granted coming here every year before. But they're close to home, and you can go for one day and come home and sleep in your own bed.
Q. Is any of that because people feel almost like you have to do something during this time of year and that you kind of think other people are getting stuff, so is any of it because you feel like you've got to be there?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, that's the crew chief's mentality, that's why we've got to ask the owners questions and not the crew chiefs because all they want to do is spend money.
Q. How many conversations or exchanges have you had with your buddy Tony Stewart about ownership, and at what point in this season in your opinion is it really going to hit him what he's done?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, we've had a few conversations about it. Obviously they feel pretty strongly about the direction that they're taking and have experienced some of the things that we have experienced in the past. But the magnitude of what they're doing is much different than what we did from a truck and Nationwide standpoint. I'd say it hasn't really hit yet (laughing). He's still in the fun stage.
The good part about it is he's gone in with an existing team. When it'll really hit is when you get that first penalty from a crew chief or you're not running good and you have to take that first step from an R & D standpoint to get your cars more competitive, and that usually entails everything that you have not being any good. So you have to go out and buy more new stuff when you thought all the stuff that you bought was new. The challenges in my opinion haven't started for him yet.
Q. Talk about your relationship with Ron Hornaday, and do you see yourself -- a lot of yourself in him? And also, how determined now is he to get back on top?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, Hornaday and I have a much different relationship than most everybody from an owner-driver standpoint just because Ron and I go way back as far as being friends and racing against each other, and he's been a huge help to getting my career where it is today.
Yeah, he is a lot like myself. It's just taking him to the point of 50 to slow him down enough where I can ever keep up with him. But I think he's a racer's racer. He loves being a part of the sport. He likes to be on the racetrack. He's 50 years old and as enthusiastic as anybody in this garage and can drive as well as anybody in the garage.
He's just a fun person to be around, great family and people and everybody that comes with him. For me it's fun because I don't ever have to worry about whether I'm getting everything out of the driver's compartment. From an owner's standpoint that's all you ask for, and he always gives 110 percent and then some.
He's still one of those guys that you have to pull the reins on every once in a while.
Q. How determined (Inaudible)?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think losing like that obviously makes somebody pretty determined. I think they're very focused and determined as a team to come back and do the things that they need to do to win for a championship. They've competed for the championship the last couple years and they've been on both sides of it. So they know which side stinks, and that's the losing side.
Q. The last couple years winning the Daytona 500 hasn't exactly been a springboard to more Cup victories. Is that just pure coincidence or is there some possible explanation?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't think so. I think you just go back to Jimmie's year, what was that, '06, winning the 500, the Brickyard and the championship. I think it's more coincidence than it is anything. You sound like my wife. That's what she said. "I want you to do good this year in the 500, but you don't need to win."
Q. The Truck Series, is there any concern on your part that it might get away from its vision with the mix of young drivers and old drivers with this financial crisis? Maybe in terms of trying to keep fans coming, that it might get away from its original mission?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think its original mission was I think to just have a good form of racing in trucks. I don't think anybody in this room can argue that they still have the best racing on the track, and I think you're going to see more new guys than you've seen in the past come into the series this year. I think you're going to see a great field of trucks when we show up here to Daytona, and you're going to have a great mix of guys that haven't raced before in this form of racing on this type of racetrack against the guys that have raced for a long period of time.
Sure, there are some challenges as far as the Truck Series goes right now, but I think a lot of those are being addressed over the course of the off-season, and I think -- I think it'll be strong when we get here.
Q. Just to be clear, Cale is probably not going to run any Nationwide races this year?
KEVIN HARVICK: He's going to run a few, but just not as many as last year.
Q. You're just going to have the one car, the 33?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, we'll have the same number of vehicles that we had in 2008. It'll be the two trucks and the 33 car.
ANDREW BOOTH: Kevin, thank you very much.
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