Harvick not so happy as season slips away
AP Auto Racing Writer
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) – Kevin Harvick arrived at Infineon Raceway convinced the longest drought of his Sprint Cup Series career can come to an end this weekend on the winding California road course.
His statistics say otherwise.
His last Cup points victory was 86 races ago, dating back to the 2007 season-opening Daytona 500. He’s a skilled road racer, but has been hit-or-miss over the years on Sonoma’s scenic course.
More important, he’s in the middle of a pretty horrendous season.
“You go up and you go down, but obviously, it’s been the worst year that I’ve ever had racing, period,” Harvick said Friday before practice at Sonoma.
He’s not exaggerating, either.
Through 15 races, Harvick has just a pair of top-10 finishes and ranks 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings. His streak of three consecutive years in the Chase for the championship will most certainly come to an end this season, one year removed from last year’s fourth-place finish in the final standings.
It’s so far from the success Harvick is used to, even during the down years at Richard Childress Racing. Just how bad are things for Harvick? He’s led just nine laps all season.
“Kevin is frustrated. He’s used to contending for wins and being fairly secure in the Chase,” RCR teammate Jeff Burton said. “He’s had a year to this point he would rather forget. He’s concerned about it.”
Everyone at RCR shares the concern because the problems aren’t exclusive to Harvick, the longtime star of Childress’ four-car organization. Instead, the entire lineup is struggling and Childress is in danger of failing to place anyone in the 12-driver Chase field.
Burton is 12th, clinging to his spot by three points over David Reutimann. Clint Bowyer, since peaking earlier this season at second in the standings, has plummeted to 16th. Casey Mears, in his first year with RCR, is 21st.
Childress saw early season struggles with Harvick and Mears, so in late April he swapped their entire crews in an effort to stop the slide. Instead, Burton and Bowyer have both started struggling since the swap, while Harvick and Mears have yet to show any steady improvement.
“It’s just been one of those things where the whole company has been off,” Harvick said. “We can get one car to work on a particular week and the rest of them run in the back, so, that part is frustrating. But it’s just kind of the way it’s been all year.”
Because Harvick has never been one to sit silent when his race cars aren’t running well, it’s widely believed that this down season is testing his patience. He’s already weathered two previous downturns at RCR, and seems destined to ride out a third turnaround in seven seasons.
But if he’s at the end of his rope, he’s not letting on. He played coy Friday about RCR’s issues, directing any specific questions to the boss.
“It’s not my job to figure out what is wrong. You give all the input that you can back, and then it’s out of my department,” he said. “Ask Richard what’s wrong. He’s the only one who can answer this.”
And Childress is hoping hard work will solve the problems plaguing his organization, which is considered one of the four best teams in NASCAR.
“We just got to all keep working,” he said. “If you ever bury your head in the sand, you can’t get back. This isn’t my first time being in this situation, and it probably won’t be the last if we’re in racing hard enough. I’m sure any driver or any team who has come from a struggling year back to the top – you fix it, you fix it as a team and as a company, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., struggling through his own down year, has watched Harvick’s slump from afar this season. The two are forever linked because Harvick took over the late Dale Earnhardt’s car a week after the elder Earnhardt’s 2001 death, and it’s created a deep respect between the two.
He knows Harvick isn’t fulfilling his nickname, “Happy Harvick” this season, but thinks he’s handling it well.
“I watch him and he seems to be about as good as I am at putting a smile on and turning toward the next opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “He’s not as shy about his opinions as I am. He says what he is thinking a lot more than I do, and he’s really apt to voice his opinion.
“I just hope that throughout the rest of the season, no matter how bad it gets or how better it gets, it doesn’t change the way he feels about Richard or changes the way he feels about that opportunity they gave him a long time ago. And I don’t think it will.”
But Harvick needs a turnaround, and soon. Although his track record at Sonoma is spotty – two finishes inside the top three, but three more finishes 24th or lower – he loves his chances this weekend.
“I’ll be extremely disappointed if we don’t leave here with a top five,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind we can win.”
Would that be the jump start Harvick and RCR so desperately need?
“No. It’s just a Band-Aid,” he said. “We’ve got work to do, that’s obvious. There’s just a lot of scenarios that you hope play out right, and you just wait and see how it all plays out.”