NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Coca-Cola 600
Topics: Coca-Cola 600
May 29, 2011
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
THE MODERATOR: Kevin Harvick drives the No. 29 Budweiser Armed Forces Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. He's joined up front by team owner, Richard Childress. Kevin's 17th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. He's won the all-star race here, but he had not won a points race at Charlotte prior to today's victory. It's his third win in 2011. That tops the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Kevin, people say you're one of the best, if not the best, closers in the business, and certainly took advantage when opportunity knocked here tonight. Congratulations.
KEVIN HARVICK: Just got to thank everybody on our Budweiser Chevrolet team. They do this a lot. They give us chances to win races and put ourselves in position. I've been on the other side of this fence a lot with the fuel mileage stuff and the strategy.
It just seems like this year you have to be more aggressive taking chances, and I think winning those couple races early in the year, we had a 30-lap window there with a couple pit stops to go that we were hoping we could make to get to the last pit stop, and I think they wanted to pit it sounded like to me, and I was like, We didn't come here to run 15th. So we stayed out on the racetrack three or four laps toward the end of our fuel window. Everything worked out and when that last green flag dropped, I ran about two laps. When I saw those guys up there racing, I knew I was a lap and a half short, so I just shut my car down.
I didn't have any pressure from behind me, and we ran probably 10 or 15 laps probably a second off the pace, and I got some good savings under the caution. And we thought we were plenty good there, so it all worked out.
THE MODERATOR: Richard, talk about winning the Coca-Cola 600 for RCR on Memorial Day weekend with a special paint scheme with the 29 Budweiser Chevrolet. It had to be a big thrill for you.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Yeah, it's really great, especially on Memorial weekend to let everybody understand what Memorial weekend is all about. It's not about celebrating racing or a lot of other things, but it's celebrating our fallen troops and our veterans that gave us the opportunity to do what we were able to do tonight.
I couldn't be prouder of Kevin and Gil and the whole Budweiser Jimmie John's team. It was one of those deals that they started saving and I was listening to them on the radio all the way through it and just run hard enough to stay in front of -- at the time it was the 31. And Kevin is as good as anybody knowing how to save fuel, and I felt we were going to be right there at the end. If anybody could make it, I felt like he could.
Q. Two things, Kevin: Number one, you were miserable for most of the race --
KEVIN HARVICK: It's Charlotte. Even though we won, I'm still miserable. In about 30 minutes I will be happy when we drive out of that tunnel, and the month of May is over.
Q. You've got to be pretty delightful for DeLana. But you were pretty miserable. What was going on with your car, and was it just Charlotte? A lot of times when guys win this way, you've led nine laps and three wins this year. You start to say, maybe this is their year, maybe things are just lining up and this is your year. Are you starting to think that at all?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, look, when we pull into Charlotte, I apologize before I even get to the racetrack because there's nothing -- this is a great racetrack. It's a great facility, and I know everybody loves coming here because it's close to home.
For me it's been a struggle since day one of my career -- well, I shouldn't say that. We finished second the first time I came here, and that was about it. So for me it's just been that thing in my mind, that one racetrack that just frustrates the hell out of me that I can't figure out.
When they threw the green flag tonight, we'd fought the same thing for last week and this week, and I said, Well, we haven't fixed it in two weeks, and Gil said, Well, we've got four more hours and we're going to fix you right up. Usually when he says something like that, it always comes back to haunt me.
Honestly, it's great to be a part of this team because everybody knows who I am. They don't get down on me, and nobody gets really down on each other. And if we wouldn't have won the race, everybody would have went home and we would have said we'd do this different or that different and we'd have all smiled about it by the time we got done at 8:00 on Monday morning after our competition meeting.
So it's just the chemistry and the way that everybody is on this race team, money can't buy that. When you have a race team like that, I've never had that until you feel everything gel and you feel everything come together and you race for a championship and you do everything that you do, it's not about having the fastest car all the time. Sometimes it's just about believing in everybody around you and putting yourself in position to win.
And these guys put us in position to win a lot, and we've been able to do that over the past couple years. If we aren't winning we can take -- the championship teams are when you can take a 15th place car and you can finish 5th with it, and that's what we did today.
Q. (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: I think it's been a fun year so far anyway. We're going to have fun. This stuff is way too hard. If it all works out in the end, great. We're going to fight all the way to the end to make it -- put ourselves in position to do everything you can. But you never know. It's so early. But hopefully we're right in the middle of it.
THE MODERATOR: Crew Chief, Gil Martin, has joined us now. Gil, talk about your thought process toward the end of that race having to save fuel, et cetera. Kevin certainly is a master at doing that.
GIL MARTIN: Yes, he does a great job on that. And we knew with right at 100 laps to go, we had our mindset that we were needing to get to lap 348 to be able to make it in one last stop. When that caution came out on 343 or whatever it was, we knew it was going to be extremely close right then, and we started -- Jeremy and Matt, the two engineers, they started crunching numbers as hard as they could go. And any way we could crunch them, we were a lap and a half short.
So basically, we told Kevin that, and he did a great job saving fuel from the drop of the whole last run because there was no way that we were going to make that, and he made it up, didn't lose any real time on the racetrack. So he was able to save fuel and maintain speed at the same time, and that's two things that's hard to do.
Q. Richard, I just want to get your reaction to seeing your three cars lined up there helping each other out, pushing each other at the end. That was kind of unique. For the other two guys, how nerve-wracking is that at the end? That's got to be pretty nerve-wracking.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Well, this whole race was -- this was probably as competitive of a 600 that I've witnessed. All night long the field kept changing at the front and changing, but to see our cars working together, that's what an owner loves to see or wants to see. It was all legal. You can do what we were doing there. You just can't push somebody across the checkered flag to win it on the last lap. I think that's the rule.
But it was pretty neat to see everybody work together, and I'm sure they're happy to see Kevin win.
THE MODERATOR: That is the rule. You can't do it once the white flag has been displayed. That's correct.
KEVIN HARVICK: Fuel mileage racing is -- there's no gas gauge in the car, and there's really no rhyme or reason. I have a pretty good idea. When they say a lap and a half, I feel like I've got half of that under caution after the pit stop, and the way that -- we didn't take advantage of the new tires.
I ran a couple laps and didn't feel like I needed to be racing that hard. I feel like the first 10 or 15 laps were probably a second slow of probably what we could have ran, and I felt like we had saved a good portion the next 30 or 35 laps. He had actually felt comfortable enough with it, with the pace that we had run to tell me to go ahead and go.
So I felt when he was that comfortable with it, and then Richard overruled him and said, "Slow down," so when the caution came out, the slow down probably worked out pretty good, so it was a good balance between everybody, and we didn't need another caution. That's for sure.
Q. Kevin, earlier in the race you were a little upset about one of the debris cautions, and I just wondered at the end of the race, your teammate, Jeff Burton, got caught up in a wreck on the next to last lap. They didn't throw a caution. Is that a different scenario for you, or does that just kind of fuel the fire of your earlier complaint?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think when you're the recipient of the caution and it's not falling your way, you're going to be mad. I don't know if there was debris out there or not. I was frustrated, but all the guys who were the beneficiary of that weren't frustrated. It's just the nature of the beast.
The one thing I have learned over the last two or three weeks, and it really kind of puts it all into reality, is there has to be a judge. There has to be somebody making those decisions, and there has to be somebody who's going to say, Yep, there's debris on the track. I see it and there it is. And if this car is illegal or that car is illegal, here's the penalty, here's that.
It took me -- after the whole Kyle Busch thing and the penalty, it took me a couple weeks to get over that. I was really frustrated and I had a good conversation with Mike and that part made sense to me and I understand, but it still doesn't keep me from getting frustrated. If I don't see the debris, I'm going to be mad on the radio because we just went a lap down. There has to be somebody making the calls, and I'm glad I don't have to make them.
Q. For Gil, at the end of the race, how much did you pay attention to what problems other teams might have and were you hoping that Kevin would get an opportunity to race to the end without a caution? Did you think something might happen?
GIL MARTIN: Well, I really was because of the fact we watched for the last 40 laps the lap times that some of those guys were running, and knowing that I felt like we got some of the best gas mileage all night long of anybody because there was a lot times when we could have gone a lot further than we went.
And those guys were talking before the flag even came out that they were going to be three or four laps short, and they were setting the pace at 29.70 and 29.80 and we were running 30.80 and I knew at that point they had pretty given up that they weren't going to be able to make it and they were hoping that caution was going to come out and they would get to pit and it would have cycled right on down the road.
But the pace that they set and they tried 25 laps later to start saving fuel, I knew they were dead in the water at that point because they extended their self too far early.
Q. Kevin, obviously, you're not going to give away any wins, but you've had to endure long losing streaks in the past. How do you feel for Dale Jr., him being so close to snapping his long losing streak and then losing it right at the end?
KEVIN HARVICK: I feel like complete crap, to tell you the truth. Man, when I saw that thing slowing down, I was like, I really want to win the race, but why can't it be on a day when we're running bad or have something going wrong.
I think everybody sitting up here would say we want the 88 to win and they're so close to winning and both times they had a chance to win. We are going to do what we have to do to win the races, and today it all just worked out strategy-wise that we won the race. But I feel so stinking bad for him, and I know how bad he wants it. But it's -- it'll happen. They keep running like that, it'll happen.
Q. Kevin, you talked about the chemistry this team has. When did that begin? Was that during the Chase last year? Was it during the off-season, coming into this season, and do you guys feed off of this new closer label that you've sort of garnered this year?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think the chemistry part of it, I really think the beginning of last year when everybody was so wound up in the contract stuff and Gil was kind of the ringleader of we're going to go out and we're going to race and we're going to concentrate on racing and we're going to do this and do that.
And he just corralled everybody and the next thing you know, everybody was on the same page and all that stuff was over with. Then the extra effort he put it at the beginning of the year to make sure everybody was on the same page, all of a sudden when Richard and I made everything official and put it all out there and told everybody what we were going to do, everybody was already on the same page. And then everybody was like, Oh, all right. Everybody was at peace with that.
But everybody was already getting along and understood who each other was, and these guys had been together for a long time. I really think the beginning of last year was when that really fell into place.
GIL MARTIN: Well, I mean, it does work like that way because I came to RCR in 2000 and I had the opportunity to come into the Busch shop then, the Nationwide shop now, and when Kevin was driving for the AC/Delco car, and I got to work hand in hand with that group and with Kevin through that whole season. And I think through 2002 we won at Chicago basically the same kind of race like that in a Goodwrench car.
So myself, I've had pretty good chemistry with Kevin the whole time because I've watched his driving style and everything else, and no matter where he goes with his -- if he gets mad or whatever has happened through the years, I've learned to deal with it. It doesn't bother me.
And I think all these guys have learned the same thing, that we can sit up in the lounge and we can throw punches and take them pretty easily with each other and nobody gets offended, and that's what it's all about, because this sport is so much about feelings and everybody wearing their feelings on their shoulders. Then one of you interview one of us and say, This one said that and you got mad on the radio and Kevin thought the car was terrible and what are you going to do. Well, this was one of those nights, and we just worked our way through it.
Basically, he has a right when we come here to Charlotte where we have it run bad. We basically haven't given him a very good car because he obviously can get it done here, and that's the stuff that we're working on because the chemistry end of it is where we need it. I mean, I don't know what else you can say about it. It's working pretty good right now. I like it.
Q. This is more a question for Richard. With that last lap crash or second to last lap crash, you had a car that was actually involved in it. There was no yellow flag thrown for it. Were you concerned that there should have been a caution thrown, or did you understand the reasoning, that because of the fact that all the cars were off the track that it was clear to go green?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Well, I didn't see it. There wasn't any other cars in danger at the time when Jeff got -- I think he got hit from behind. I was actually watching the front and didn't see really what happened.
But I watched to see if he got going, and I was hoping he would get going because we didn't need a green-white checkered. NASCAR, like Kevin said, somebody had to be the judge, and they let it go. Then I seen Jimmie blow up, and I said something -- I can't say what I said, but I said something, and anyway, it worked out for the better of us tonight. 29 Budweiser is here in the Winner's Circle.
Q. I heard you say while you were in victory lane, and I know you explained that this track has been a struggle for you, but you were saying something like it's not your style, it's not how you run on this track. Can you explain what your style is and what you run better at?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, it's kind of like -- I guess it would be kind of like the way you dress. I don't really have a style because I don't really have any style at all. I have no rhythm. I have no style whatsoever.
I wish I could explain that to you, but it's just a -- I finally got it somewhat figured out before they repaved the racetrack, and with this particular type of asphalt and everything, the way that the corners are and the way you have to use the throttle, we fight a lot of the things constantly, tight into the corner, and it used to be you couldn't feel the side of the car and didn't feel like it had enough bite and side bite. We don't fight that anymore.
But with this new style car, it's pretty much been just tight into the corner, and I think we've overcome a lot of that to where we can run 7th to 12th, and that was a huge step for us. I think tonight we were easily able to do that. But that 5th to 1st part of it is just going to be taking that next step. We'll figure it out. We've figured everything else out, and they can't take the trophy away from us, so we have won here.
Q. You may have mentioned this earlier. I'm not quite sure. Did somebody tell you that Jr. was out of gas or did you see him around the corner or how did you find out?
KEVIN HARVICK: Spotter was going nuts. He's like, 88 is out of gas, keep going. I'm like, Well, I'm not going to let off. What do you want me to do? I'm going as hard as I can go. At that point he had told me just to go. I didn't need to save. I saw the 11 wiggling coming off of 2. I knew he was out of gas. All of a sudden 88 just shut off. They must have sucked every drop out of the fuel cell. I had just passed the 11 and as he went into 3 you could see it just shut off and he was dead in the water.
Q. Kevin, not to beat a dead horse, but to follow up on the previous lady's question, I haven't ever heard you say I hate Kansas or I hate Texas or I hate Atlanta, so what is different in the other mile-and-a-halfs that you can't seem to put your arms around here in Charlotte?
KEVIN HARVICK: I wish I knew. I wish we knew. You know, really, I would say that the 31 has probably been the best car that we've had over the years, even when Skinner was driving. I think the 31 has always been the best car, and he just likes the racetrack. I think maybe I just need to have a better attitude. I don't know. I think a better attitude might go a long ways.
But over the last couple years it's gotten better. I don't know. I wish I knew. I guess --
Q. You have won the All-Star Race and you have won the Coke 600 now.
KEVIN HARVICK: I just need to have a better attitude.
GIL MARTIN: If anybody has a couch with them we'll put him on it and talk about it right now. (Laughter.)
Q. You've only led nine laps in your three wins. Can you talk a little bit about the emotions of making those last passes and kind of fill us in on that?
KEVIN HARVICK: That sounds like a three-lap average per race. We're doing good.
You know, at Martinsville and California -- California I really knew coming to the white flag I knew what I wanted to do because the year before I had given the race away coming to the white flag. Martinsville our car just came on strong, and it all just played out and we were able to capitalize with a fast car there at the end.
And today you just -- when you have a strategy race, I mean, we were going to -- I think we were running 7th there at the end of the race before that last caution came out. I just thought when they told us we were a lap and a half short I just looked up there and I saw those guys and I could hear in the tone of everybody's voice that they were just racing too hard, and I think it's really not -- I've never been a guy that's led a bunch of laps. We've always been around at the end and we've never just -- I mean, we've had a lot of days where we've gone out and dominated but just not an astronomical amount of days where we're going to go out and lead a bunch of laps.
It's one of those deals where you get toward the end of the race and I feel like we can take the car to another level and we always have something left, we always have race car left, we always have brakes left. I guess that's kind of the way I was taught to race. I was always taught to race, save everything you had, keep all the fenders on it, and then when it's time to go, whatever you've got to do, you've got to do. You've got to be there at the end to make something happen. It's just never been our style to lead a bunch of laps.
Q. Obviously this wasn't a typical Charlotte race for you because you've never won a points race here, but did it seem like -- was it a different kind of race before that? Did it seem different from your perspective overall because it seemed like it was one of the best races in recent memory.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, it was crazy. I mean, there was just -- with the way that the cautions fell, with all the pit strategy, and I mean, I'm a firm believer if we weren't sitting here with two races won already and the strategy that we played with, the next to the last pit stop coming with only 30 laps left to our pit window, we would have pitted. I might be wrong but we would have pitted. But the way the pit strategy has been at Dover, has been at Darlington and you've seen these races won, you've got to be aggressive because if you're not, somebody else is. We've talked about that, and two or three times tonight we made pit calls that we wouldn't normally make.
Gil is very aggressive, but I think tonight we took it to another level as far as the aggressiveness of staying on the racetrack and putting two tires on and just doing things that aren't normal for us that were a little bit outside the box. But it seems like over the past couple weeks you've got to be more aggressive and you've got to take more chances if you're going to win. You can finish 7th or 8th, but if you're going to win the race you're going to have to take some chances when all the cautions start coming out.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Like Kevin said, at this point we can be a lot more aggressive. Three wins should put you in the Chase. If it don't, something's wrong. And that's what we had talked about earlier is it's time to take some chances, and that's what it's going to take to win. Gil made some great calls tonight, and we're proud to be here with these guys.
Q. Richard, with a half a lap to go, one laugh to go, whatever, in your heart, and I know how much the Earnhardts mean to you, were you even halfway starting to celebrate maybe a Dale Earnhardt, Jr., win?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: With about ten to go, I went to the condo, and I said, I don't think we've got much of a chance to win, so I'm going to beat traffic. It's a good thing I was up there because I got to talk to the 27. I could see some things going on that I wouldn't have seen down here.
But yeah, like Kevin said it earlier, we all want to see Dale Jr. win but not at our expense. When I see him come down the back stretch, I said, Dale is going to win this race, and then all of a sudden when I heard our spotter start screaming, I said, hell, we're going to win it. Great.
We all want to see Dale Jr. win. Like Kevin said, he's going to win his races, and I'll be the first one there to congratulate him because I am an Earnhardt fan at heart, no doubt. But I pull for my guys and I want to see them win, and I'm really proud of everybody on this Budweiser team for what they did, and Junior will win.
Q. Kevin, looking at your racing résumé, you've had the Daytona 500, you've had the Brickyard, now you've got the 600. What does it mean to have this race on your résumé, and what do you still hope to accomplish in the future?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, this is a huge accomplishment for us to be honest with you, for me and the team and everybody. We've been at this for ten years now. Just every time we've come here, just nothing has really went our way. I've struggled, so just to be in position to win the race was an accomplishment for us tonight. But to know the history, to know how much Charlotte -- the Charlotte area means to this sport, to know all the families and the teams and everything is here for NASCAR racing means a lot. And I mean, that thing will sit right next to those particular trophies and mean just as much as those trophies because this is a hell of a race to win. I mean, this is a 600-mile marathon that not very many people get to experience the chance to win here.
We're going to celebrate it like it's our last one, because it might be. You never know.
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