FONTANA, Calif.—He stands second in points, he hasn’t finished worse than 11th, and he’s coming back to a race track where he is defending champion. But Kevin Harvick is still waiting on his No. 29 team to truly hit its stride.
The Richard Childress Racing driver has entrenched himself near the top of the Sprint Cup standings with a strong early-season run highlighted thus far by a runner-up finish at Phoenix. Now the Bakersfield native is back at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California looking for not only another victory, but for his team to put everything together and have the kind of afternoon of which he knows they’re capable.
“I think all the guys on the team would say we aren’t really crisp, I guess you would say, as far as the first four weeks,” Harvick said. “I haven’t done everything right from the driver’s seat. We’ve made some mistakes in all areas, I would say. Once we feel like we’re in a rhythm, and have all the bugs and kinks worked out of everything, I think it will be even better. The good thing about it is the speed has been in the car at every race track we’ve been to, and that’s really what we were looking for. Speed in the race cars. We can fix and tweak the small things outside of that. It’s been pretty comfortable so far, and hopefully we can keep it rolling and make it better every week.”
Is that somewhat nitpicky for a guy second in the Sprint Cup standings? Maybe, but Harvick is also a driver who’s finished third in final points each of the last two seasons, and is well aware that the little things are what it will take to close that gap. The No. 29 team still rues a pit decision that cost them track position at Las Vegas, and Harvick was caught up in the multi-car wreck that marred the early stages of last week’s event at Bristol. He placed 11th in both events, his worst finish of the year.
“We just have to work out some kinks,” crew chief Shane Wilson said. “You’re trying to perform at the highest level, so you’re always going to nitpick yourself and try to do it better than the 99 [car of Carl Edwards] or the 14 [car of Tony Stewart]. You’re always driving to be better. That never stops.”
Wilson, crew chief for former RCR driver Clint Bowyer last year, replaced Gil Martin on the No. 29 as part of an offseason personnel shuffle prompted by the organization’s move from four to three full-time Sprint Cup operations. Wilson and Harvick are longtime friends, and won eight races and the championship when they were paired together in the Nationwide Series in 2006. That level of familiarity helped circumvent the settling-in process than often accompanies the movement of a crew chief to a new team.
“Our deal is, we’re not new together,” Wilson said. “We’ve raced together in the past, and we’re friends, and we work for the same company. It’s not like we’re coming in from a different company. You had meetings and know what the other people are thinking. I feel like that’s one of the reasons they did it, because there wasn’t going to be a long period like that. We’re more working on our notebook with Kevin ... and getting used to a few little things with his car here. All in all, that’s already right where it needs to be.”
And while the finishes the past two weeks may have not been what the No. 29 team had hoped for, Wilson and Harvick take solace in the fact that the speed has been in the car. That’s been a point of emphasis at RCR, which wants to make its flagship vehicle faster now so it’s able to better compete for the championship at the end of the year.
“That was our goal coming into the year, to get our car speed up,” Wilson said. “Calling the races and me and him working together is gong to come pretty quick, because me and him have worked together in the past. Him and Gil obviously had a good thing going, but we’ve done what we wanted to do so far as far as getting our cars faster, where we’re competitive and can race with the guys we’re going to need to at the end of the year. It’s a long season, but we’re still trying to accomplish that goal of getting our cars faster, and we feel like we’re hitting on it so far. We’ve got to keep it up.”
Auto Club Speedway—at 2 miles the biggest unrestricted track NASCAR has competed on so far this year—provided a positive sign Friday, when Harvick qualified seventh for Sunday’s 400-miler.
“We haven’t had a good race here in the last couple of races to judge our finish on,” Wilson said. “We run all day Sunday, we’ll know how we did, and hope it’s good.”
Story courtesy of David Caraviello and NASCAR.com: