NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick took part in a teleconference in advance of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, June 22-24. A transcript of the teleconference is below:
One of the things we’ve noticed a lot the last couple of years is that it just seems like road course racing, particularly here in Sonoma, has just become that much more physical every year. Last year we saw Tony Stewart end up on the tires in Turn 11 after an incident with Brian Vickers and certainly some heated tempers and things like that out on the road course. Is that something you’ve noticed and is that something you think is good or bad?
KH: Yeah, it’s a good thing that they have the road-course races spread out because, yeah, it’s become definitely a lot rougher than it used to be. I think the double-file restarts have made that part exciting, but road racing in general has just become more exciting because everybody’s so competitive at it. So when you have those opportunities to pass, you’ve got to take that chance and put your car in that particular position to try to make a pass, so it has become rough; and I think last year tires seemed to mean a lot as the race went on, so that means the grip in the track is starting to go away, which is a good thing as well. So the races have been really physical, but really fun to watch.
Is the race in Sonoma somewhere you feel like you have a good chance to do well? You’ve done pretty well here and have had some good finishes.
KH: Yeah, I mean I feel like we can win anywhere. It’s just a matter of putting the whole day together. We’ve been in the place to win some races there in the past and just hadn’t quite got it done yet, but all in all I enjoy road racing and looking forward to shifting gears and turn in both directions.
So a lot of the contact and turmoil in Sonoma happens at Turn 11, which was just referenced in the introduction. I think you even got caught up in some of it last year, and I was hoping that from a driver’s perspective you could kind of explain what goes through your mind as you head into that turn and what makes it such a dangerous spot on that course.
KH: Well there’s only a few spots to pass if the guy’s having a decent lap, and as you come off Turn 10 there, if you get a good run and the guy has to breathe the throttle a little bit, you want to shove it in there as quick as you can to try to make the pass. So as you go through the race, you realize you only have a few opportunities and you have to take some risk and sometimes you get in there a little deep and you get wheel hop. So it’s obviously one of the passing zones, but it’s also a risk every time you make a pass. So you got guys blocking, you got guys that sometimes you make a mistake and sometimes it gathers some people up.
Your race this last weekend (in Dover) doesn’t have much to do with racing at Sonoma in a few weeks here, but there are probably a couple of things that come out to me. One, in the (NASCAR Camping World) truck race, it seemed like you had the best truck, but you didn’t win, but there was a lot of preparation and everything that went into a high finish in any case. But then in the Sunday race, after you overcame so much, you probably just didn’t have the best car to catch Jimmie Johnson. So what can you take from those two races that could apply at Sonoma in a few weeks?
KH: Absolutely nothing. I think as we go to Sonoma, it’s a totally different process to prepare for. We went to Virginia International Raceway last week to kind of get the cobwebs knocked off of everybody, get back in road-course mode, and then we’re testing the week of the race in Colorado. So it’s just a totally different process. Obviously, you want to be the car with the most speed and try to control a race like the 48 did. And if you look at Friday’s truck race, you don’t want it to rain and pit when it starts raining. So I guess if you’re going to take something out of the Dover weekend, we need to get a little bit better on Sunday and don’t pit when it rains on Friday.
Kevin, I know you DeLana are expecting your first baby in July. Congratulations.
KH: Thank you.
You’ve obviously made some pretty significant life changes over the last year with shutting down KHI and really focusing on expanding your family on your personal side. Can you talk a little bit about how you guys are feeling heading into the big event you’re expecting in July?
KH: Yeah, well the biggest thing we don’t want to happen is we don’t want her to go into labor while I’m in California. That’s the biggest hurdle that we have to overcome for the weekend from a personal side of it. But I think kind of merging the race teams with RCR and kind of getting out from underneath the daily operations of that is probably the best thing that we’ve done in a long time. It’s really allowed me to focus more on my Cup car and just the driving side of it and not have to worry about the politics and all the daily happenings that happen with the race team, so we leave that up to Richard and I can still be a great part of the race team by giving input and being a part of the process to make the cars better. And, in doing that, I think the results are pretty close to showing up on Sunday.
I know years ago when Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were both expecting babies around this time, they had planes and backup plans on standby. Is that something you guys are doing now as well?
KH: We’re in the process of making some backup plans, yes, and obviously we’ll have all the planes there if something does happen.
One thing about Sonoma, you said yourself is that it’s hard to pass. There are only a couple places to pass. Does that contribute to some of the incidents like there was in Turn 11? The drivers run out of patience and finally just figure: ‘Oh, heck, I’ll just go for it. I’m running out of time.’ Do you think that’s a factor?
KH: Yeah, and I think that’s what makes the races exciting is you have to take those risks and sometimes they result in mistakes, but, yeah, you basically have two really good passing zones to make the pass happen. So if you qualify bad or get behind on a pit stop or whatever the case may be, you have to force the issue and when you force the issue, it tends to ruffle some feathers, I guess you could say, as you’re going back through the field trying to make up time. So, yeah, you get that urgency because it is a relatively short race compared to what you usually run as well.
So you get to the point where you just sometimes have to roll the dice, so to speak.
KH: They’re calculated risks, exactly.
Is it better to have a car that was prepared just right and have the best prepared car, best handling, best performing car or is it better to have all the right decisions made during the race at a road course like Sonoma?
KH: I think for us, you want to have everything right. If you screw it up by making wrong decisions or something like that, but you want to have the best performing car and make all the right decisions during the day. And usually if you have the fastest car, you can kind of dictate the race and help the race cards play as you’d like to see them played hopefully, but it’s a tough decision either way just for the fact that even when you play all the right cards, there’s going to be somebody that plays the exact opposite cards that you have and if the yellows fall the wrong way, then you’re going to be caught out. So you just never know how it’s going to play out. You try to play it the best you can, but you always want the fastest car.
I know that you’ve placed high several times here, haven’t won, but you have won at Watkins Glen, the other road course. Does breaking through and getting that win a few years ago increase your confidence any?
KH: Well that was in 2006, but we’ve never had a problem with confidence, that’s for sure. I think as we go to the road courses, we expect to run well, but we expect to run well everywhere. I’ve said it a hundred times, but I mean it, this is a team that can win at any given point and once we get past all of our hiccups and hopefully we’re past that, we can put a few weeks together and win some races.
Any extra incentive of being back in your home state for a race during the season whether it’s here or Auto Club down in Southern California?
KH: Oh, it’s always fun to win at home. We were fortunate to win at Auto Club Speedway, so that was fun to do that in your home state. So, no reason that we wouldn’t check the other one off the list.
We’ve had seven different winners here over the last seven years, and four of the last consecutive have been first-time road-course winners in the Sprint Cup Series. You mentioned it earlier, do you feel like that’s because the drivers are just becoming more adept at road-course racing? Are the cars more equal or better prepared?
KH: Yeah, I think now everybody enjoys going to road courses, but I think the thing that has changed the most is people spend a lot of time preparing for the two road courses just because you don’t want to be the guy that doesn’t prepare because you can have a bad day and hurt yourself just as bad as you can at any oval track points-wise, so everybody spends a lot of time testing. The guys spend a lot of time preparing the cars and if you don’t do that, you’re not going to run very well. So I think you’ve had to adapt to road racing in order to be competitive.