MARTINSVILLE, Va.—It would seem strange that a driver raised in California would consider Martinsville Speedway as his home track.
But that’s how Kevin Harvick feels about Martinsville. Sure, it’s near his home and that of Richard Childress Racing, but it’s more about the track itself than location that allows Harvick to feel as if he’s sitting in his favorite chair when racing at Martinsville.
Harvick has found success on the circuit’s shortest oval, which requires equal bits of patience, aggressiveness, guts and nastiness to navigate the flat, .526-mile paper clip.
“This racetrack is a lot of what Kevin is all about and his personality,” RCR teammate Jeff Burton said. “He’s really good at throttle control, and he’s really good at braking. … This track in particular suits his style.
“You’ve got to be aggressive at the right time and patient at the other time, and I think all of that works for him.”
It worked best a year ago, when he got by Dale Earnhardt Jr. with four laps remaining for his first Cup victory at the track to go along with three victories in the Camping World Truck Series, including Saturday’s Kroger 250, and a Nationwide win in 2006.
Harvick, who for 10 years operated Kevin Harvick Inc. 41 miles from Martinsville, has 10 top 10s in 21 Cup starts at the track to go along with a long history of strong runs by his truck teams.
So maybe there’s no place Harvick has more confidence, or feels more at home, than Martinsville, where he will make his 400th Cup start Sunday, starting outside on the front row in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500.
“He came from short-track racing out West, so I just have to think that he has a really good short-track background and has a good knowledge of how to drive the track,” Earnhardt said.
It didn’t start that way. He led only 147 laps in his first 17 Cup races at Martinsville, but in the past four—with finishes of third, first and fourth in the last three—he has led 195 laps (nearly 20 percent of all laps).
“For many years, I couldn’t finish in the top 10, so it’s just taken a while to get us to this point,” Harvick said. “We’ve had a good couple of year run. You never know when it will end, but all in all, it’s been pretty good for us lately.”
Harvick particularly showed his strength at Martinsville a year ago.
“When we won, we had a tough go at it in the first half of the race and actually wrecked and got a car tore up and were able to fix it and keep ourselves on the lead lap and make our car a lot better as we went through into the second half of the race,” Harvick said.
“You know, it all worked out in the end.”
Harvick could help make the car better because he knows what it takes to go fast at Martinsville—10 times he has started in the top 10. He also has learned the fine particulars of the track from good friend and former KHI driver Ron Hornaday Jr.
“(Harvick) knows how to practice to get his car right for the race,” crew chief Shane Wilson said. “He’s very good about helping us get it right, and that’s half the battle.
“I’ve worked with a few people, and he’s definitely the best here I’ve ever worked with.”
While comfortable at the track, Harvick needed a little bit of time to find the right mix of competitive fire and talent to lead laps. It was at Martinsville in 2002 when he lost his temper in a truck race and NASCAR suspended him for the next day’s Cup race. He hasn’t been that out of control since, although he has ruffled some feathers along the way.
That attitude helps at Martinsville, and it rubs off on his No. 29 team.
“He elevates that team, and that team is really good around him,” Earnhardt said. “But he also demands them to perform at a certain level, and it really seems to benefit him.”
Harvick has been in a position to spend more time with his RCR team this week. For the first time in a decade, Harvick comes to Martinsville without his truck team as he and his wife decided to have a family. She is pregnant with their son, due in July.
Harvick still drove a truck for RCR in the race Saturday but didn’t have the extra obligations that come with being an owner.
“Obviously we like to run here being so close to home,” Harvick said. “We end up with a lot of guys from the shop that put in a lot of time. They bring their families, and then local fans and everybody that comes to the racetrack. So, it’s a fun weekend.”
Although it was difficult to sell the race team last summer, Harvick is at peace with the decision, even at Martinsville, where he had so much success. His time is needed elsewhere. A baby is on the way.
His house now bustles with activity of getting the nursery ready and baby-proofing the house. If he needs to get away, his shop has a full-length basketball court.
“I’ve been able to spend time at home and concentrate on a lot of things at home with the big boy coming and the things that are required to change around the house,” Harvick said.
“So there’s a lot of things going on. I really haven’t missed it at all and really underestimated how big of a relief it would actually be.
Story courtesy of Bob Pockrass: http://aol.sportingnews.com/nascar/story/2012-03-31/kevin-harvick-martinsville-khi-richard-childress-racing