MARTINSVILLE, Va.—The start of Saturday’s NASCAR Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway was less than an hour away, and Kevin Harvick was smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He was in no hurry to get to sponsors or would-be sponsors, no rush to go over last-minute issues with engineers and crew chiefs.
His mood had nothing to do with knowing he had a truck that would own the race, leading all but two laps for his 14th career victory in the series.
It had everything to do with not owning the truck.
Until he decided last season to sell the truck team he and wife DeLana began 10 years ago so they could start a family, Harvick did not know how consumed he was with Kevin Harvick Inc.
He didn’t realize how much energy it took out of his professional and personal life. He didn’t realize he had become a prisoner to his job.
“Honestly, I didn’t,” Harvick said. “To be able to experience it, there was a lot more going on and it was a lot bigger burden than I thought it was.”
So as you read, imagine Kevin and DeLana sitting on a South Carolina beach enjoying a vacation as the NASCAR season takes a break for Easter. Imagine them doing absolutely nothing that involves racing for the first time since they took a week and a half off nine years ago for a belated honeymoon.
Imagine them talking about strollers and baby seats instead of chassis and engines.
“We could never be away from KHI that long before,” DeLana said. “If we were away for a day, we didn’t feel comfortable.”
This newfound freedom has helped Harvick spend more time than ever with his Richard Childress Racing Sprint Cup team. It has helped him spend more time with teammates Jeff Burton and Paul Menard.
It ultimately may help him win the Cup championship he so desperately wants.
“It can’t hurt,” DeLana said.
Clearing your mind and spending more time sharing information never hurts anyone, whether you’re a race car driver or a sports writer. This is something Harvick may have needed even if he wasn’t planning a family.
“He seems to be in a really good place personally and professionally,” Burton said. “He is going to be very difficult to beat in this championship because he is in a good place.”
The results speak for themselves. Harvick is only 12 points out of first place with an average finish of 9.0, ahead of last year’s 11.5 pace that left him third in points. He doesn’t have a win, but he’s come close twice.
“He’s just more relaxed, more comfortable,” team owner Richard Childress said. “He’s 100 percent focused on [Cup]. He doesn’t have all that other stuff to worry about now.
“He’s always been a threat, but when he’s on like he is now … “
Seeing Harvick happy is one thing. He’s been in a much better place the past few years since deciding to stay with RCR and having the performance of the organization improve to the standards he’d built at KHI.
Hearing him talk about baby-proofing the house, baby stuff in general, is like imagining Tim Tebow as a pure pocket passer.
It’s just not natural.
“We’re digging out swimming pools and all kinds of stuff to start working in that direction,” Harvick said of baby-proofing his home in Kernersville, N.C. “Everything from baby gates to dingers on elevators, you name it. There’s a lot that’s being changed.
“It’s fun to walk up there and see his clothes sitting in the closet and know that its real and coming that direction pretty fast.”
This doesn’t sound like the tough-guy Harvick his fans grew to know and love. This doesn’t sound like the driver who once took great joy in intimidating reporters with short answers and a piercing glare.
This doesn’t sound like the driver other drivers knew, the one who was suspended for a 2002 Cup race at Martinsville after losing his temper in the Truck race.
“Our conversations in the past would revolve around, ‘Man, there is just a lot going on,’ ” Jimmie Johnson said. “And now I hear a different side and how much he had fun during the week go-kart racing and playing golf and the experience with DeLana and her pregnancy.
“Before, it was payroll or insurance or somebody got hurt in the shop. So I can only imagine the stress level and how it’s come down. It’s stressful just being a driver.”
Not that stress made Harvick any less of a driver. He’s finished third in Cup the past two seasons, and with a little luck two years ago could have won it all.
But less stress could help make him even better.
“Somebody as good as him, he can add more to the team because he’s so knowledgeable and has a good feel for cars,” crew chief Shane Wilson said. “He has time to talk about objectives for the up-and-coming week so when he gets here he knows what we’re focusing on.
“I just feel he’s more a part of the deal, more vested in it.”
For much of the past 10 years, Harvick’s day was just beginning when he finished the truck race. After a race like Martinsville, he’d spend most of the 41-mile drive to Kernersville on the phone with his crew chief or general manager.
He and DeLana might have spent the evening talking about what they needed to do the following week to improve the organization.
“It just allows Kevin’s mind to relax a lot,” DeLana said of being free of the Truck team. “He never felt like he had the time to give [the Cup crew]. When he did, he always felt he was taking time from KHI. It was a constant pull where he needed to be.”
Not that baby-proofing the house doesn’t take time.
The Harvicks are as detailed about preparing for their son’s July 23 arrival, which happens to fall on the next off week, as they were running KHI.
They’re removing the “ding” sound from the elevator next to the baby’s room because that—and the ensuing barking of their dogs—isn’t conducive to sleep.
“Honestly, that’s how we ran our race team,” DeLana said. “I really have stressed out over car seats and strollers.”
But that’s not an every day, every hour stress like the stress Kevin and DeLana faced with KHI. Fortunately, they were smart enough to realize they couldn’t put in the time and effort it takes into raising a child without taking away the time it took to run the truck team.
“I will see him just sitting down and just talking, and two years ago you wouldn’t see him doing that,” Burton said. “He didn’t really have very much time and he would be to the point, but now he will have a much more in-depth conversation about things.
“It’s going to help him, and he is going to be more able to focus now on one thing.”
OK, one thing and a baby.
“The potential of this family has put life into perspective for him,” DeLana said. “He’s always going to be pissed if he doesn’t run well. But at the end of the day, he’s going to be able to walk out these doors and see his son and realize that there are more important things.”
Story courtesy of David Newton and ESPN.com: http://espn.go.com/racing/nascar/cup/story/_/id/7774410/nascar-kevin-harvick-living-happy-nickname