KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 JIMMY JOHNS CHEVROLET, was the guest on the NASCAR Weekly Teleconference. Below is the complete transcript:
An Interview With: Kevin Harvick
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the driver of the No. 29 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, Kevin Harvick. A California native, he is a defending race win currently sits second in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. Talk about your thoughts coming into the race at Auto Club Speedway this weekend, a track where you have statistically ran very well one win, three Top 5s and eight Top 10’s to your resumé.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, it’s been a good racetrack for us, especially over the last several years. For whatever reason, it’s been a fun racetrack to run on just because the track is getting worn out and there are some bumps and the groove has moved all over the place. To win there last year was really neat.
Obviously we had a lot of fans, a lot of family, a lot of friends that come to the racetrack every year and seemed like we always have come up short. So it’s been awhile since we had won something; it’s been since the Iroq Series, I guess probably 2002 since we won a race there. To get that under our belt and to come back this year with a decent start to the season and be able to come back to a place where we won it last year, we are all pretty excited.
Q. Bruton Smith is taking a pole of fans about whether they like the old Bristol or new Bristol and he’s considering changes to the track. If you had any input, what would you suggest?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think if I had the input, I think for me, all you have to do is look up — and we can debate it all day, whether it’s economy racetrack, whatever the case may be.
But what I feel was one of our most popular races on the circuit, I feel like the old-style track brought what the fans want to see, and whether it’s what the car owners want to see or the drivers, and whether you’ve got to run into each other or you don’t, the old-style racing was more to the appeal of the fans.
And if I had millions of dollars to spend and had spent the money on the racetrack to make it what it is today, sometimes when you take something that’s really good, and you try to make it better, sometimes it doesn’t work. Obviously they put a lot of effort into a lot of things trying to make it even better for the fans, and for the drivers, and for everybody involved.
Sometimes things don’t work out and you’ve got to go back to what worked before, and I think what we had there before was what the fans want to see and it was an exciting race. You know, beating and banging like we all grew up racing, so that’s what they want to see.
Q. If he does make changes to the track, do you feel like there should be a full test, like open tests before the race in August, or could you go in just the day before and go and test for a day and then go race?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, the one thing I do hope happens, if you’re going to — it’s kind of like sharing setups between teams. If your cars are not exactly the same, you can’t take the information from one car; put it in your car if you have three things different.
If they are going to go back and put the track — and want to call it putting the track exactly how it used to be, hopefully you put the track back exactly how it was and don’t try to piecemeal it together with trying to save this section of the corner and this part of the straightaway. Hopefully they put that all back.
As far as needing to test, I think the main test would be for good year. Obviously it’s still going to be a concrete surface and still going to have a lot of things — I could go either way. I’m not 100% set on having to have a test. I think with the engineers and the knowledge that everybody has with the tires and all of the things that come with it, I think you could go do it without a test if you had to.
Q. The races at New Hampshire are both over 300 miles, substantially shorter in distance than other races. Can you talk about whether or not you think that’s a good thing, and how it may affect your strategy being a shorter race?
KEVIN HARVICK: Oh, it definitely affects the strategy; just because of the main thing is the fuel mileage. You definitely don’t have to pit as many times; and when you don’t have to pit as many times, you have a lot less chances to work on your car than you do at other races. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
When you get into those mile racetracks, the lap times, middle of the road, it’s not a 21-second lap like you have at Martinsville or 15-, 16-second lap like you have at Bristol. It’s right around a 30-second lap.
So you make that a 400- or 500-mile race and it becomes a pretty long race. So the mile racetracks, I don’t think the short distance is a bad thing. I think the distance is about right and I think you’ve seen the trends leading to some shorter races as we have headed down the road with Pocono and a couple of the other race, California. I think you get a lot of the same results with a little less time on the track.
Q. Is there anything about New Hampshire in particular that makes you thankful that it is a shorter race, as opposed to maybe a 500?
KEVIN HARVICK: It’s a place I really enjoy going because of the time of the year the races fall. There’s nothing that really sticks out on that side.
Q. Looking to Martinsville, you have three straight top four finishes at the track, including your first grandfather clock there. Are you excited to getting the monkey off your back of having good runs derailed by wrecks or mechanic failure and having solid runs and being able to finish?
KEVIN HARVICK: For us it was good to get the win out of wait and get those solid finishes over the last couple of years has been good for us. We felt like we have always run fairly well there. We just never could put together a complete day.
Really, the spring race last year, 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. You know, it all worked out in the end.
So it’s a racetrack we feel confident at. All of our cars have run well there in the past. It’s really keeping yourself out of trouble and getting to the end and hopefully by the end of the day you’re in position to do something in the Top-5.
Q. How substantial is it to have your cars run extremely well in terms of sharing data and making sure you have the right brake package and right setups to make sure you can perform well and long runs when we get those 90-lap runs at Martinsville that happen late race?
KEVIN HARVICK: There’s directions for the company that obviously work better for us than others. It tends to change every time you go there to be honest with you, just for the fact the tire might change a little. I haven’t heard anything that it was supposed to change this time.
But I think as you go to these racetracks and you see the different trends, all of us kind of drive a little bit different, so you wind up with differences in your car but most of the time they are down a very similar path. It’s just fine tuning those cars and being able to get it the driver’s liking.
But any time you can go to a racetrack, California is a great example; Martinsville is a great example, Martinsville is a great example, of company-wide, we seem to run very well at those two racetracks and that always makes things a lot easier for the simulation engineers and the planning from each team’s perspective going into each of those types of races.
Q. Can you explain to the people how you became a race car driver? I just think it’s the neatest story how your parents started you off when you were in kindergarten.
KEVIN HARVICK: I got my first go-kart for kindergarten graduation, and we started off in a dirt field making sure that I knew where the pedals and things were. I don’t know that we have the kind of time to explain the rest of it, but that’s where we started and that’s something that I was around my whole life. My dad was into cars and never really liked driving them.
So he decided he was going to work on them and I like driving them, so it all worked out through the years.
Q. Is it true that your father built your first car so you could compete in that NASCAR series?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, we built all of our own stuff coming up through the years. We couldn’t afford to buy it so we had to build it ourselves.
Q. They are supposed to start fixing the infamous fireball patch at Daytona tomorrow. Can you just give me your thoughts of that night, and can you go back and recall the events and all that?
KEVIN HARVICK: I would call it days. Obviously the rain, that was first in NASCAR history; to delay our first race of the year and push it back to Monday and sit around and not know exactly when you were going to race or what was going to go on, all of the things that you had planned for to do during the day were now going to be at night.
Definitely you had a lot of questions in your mind. Obviously with the jet dryer incident and the multiple red flags and standing around on the back straightaway, there was a lot of different scenarios than what we are accustomed to. Standing back on that back straightaway, everybody was just sitting there wondering if the track was so damaged that the race was going to be over and we couldn’t repair it.
I think the whole situation that we had a few years ago back, NASCAR was very prepared with different scenarios with what they fixed the hole with and came back and made sure the track was right. I don’t think it will have any effect on the surface. I think obviously there might be a little bump there, but with the Speedway stuff, it won’t be any big deal.
Q. The reason they say they are fixing it because they are afraid that some of the fuel may have been absorbed into the asphalt and they say they are trying to be proactive; is that the new way people in NASCAR do things, they don’t wait around, they just get in there and get it done now?
KEVIN HARVICK: It seems like a lot of the things that we have done, or NASCAR, that they have done from their standpoint, trying to be in front of things and trying to be the leader instead of the followers is a new approach.
Obviously you don’t want to have a problem and then everybody say, well, the gas soaked into the ground and caught on fire, and the asphalt was questionable anyway; why wouldn’t you fix it, and have another race go bad and have a lot of bad press.
Any time you can try to keep from having a problem, I think you’re better off. And you know, you’ve got to applaud them for trying to stay in front of the curve and keep things headed in the right direction much.
Q. What you’ve done so far this season, and second in standings and all that do you attribute that to any of you getting rid of the teams that you own personally?
KEVIN HARVICK: That’s definitely not the best start we have ever gotten off to, but I think — I don’t think you can attribute it to that one particular thing. I think obviously the nation bide teams have run better. We have only had one Truck race so that’s hard to tell what’s going to happen with the Truck stuff.
Our Cup car has performed well pretty much every week. We have not had everything go 100% correctly; with the wreck last week at Bristol and obviously with the mistake at Vegas — we made some mistakes. We still have a lot to do to make things better. I feel more comfortable than I ever have, not being as wound up and being a part of my team and setup conversations and things that are going on at RCR with everything being in one spot.
To be honest with you, it’s been more of a relief, and it was more of a burden than I had really realized having the teams before. To be able to drive the cars and be a part of things and not have to worry about the day-to-day stuff has been a lot bigger relief than we anticipated.
Q. With what you with Budweiser, seems more interactive, like delivering beer to places; can you comment on that? Do you have any commercials planned for this year? Do you think that drivers have to be part actors?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I don’t get into planning any of the schedule. Obviously we do whatever our sponsors want, and we have a good relationship with most of our sponsors in participating and talking about the things that they want to do.
Obviously in the end, they have the final say as far as commercials and ad time and things that they do. So right now, obviously I don’t know of anything on the schedule for us. Budweiser has been a great sponsor to be part of with the activation and the things that they do. It’s just a very easy fit for me, very casual and laid back, and a brand that is easy for me to be a part of because I enjoy it.
Between Budweiser and Jimmy John’s and Rheem and all of the people that we have on the car that some of them have been with me for a long time and obviously Budweiser has been there for a year now and working on our second year. It’s been a very easy fit. We have a good group of sponsors that like to be a part of it and activate it off the racetrack, as well. So as a team and a driver, that’s something that definitely is an added bonus in this day and age.
Q. Do you think that having that relationship with your sponsors is a big plus for your team?
KEVIN HARVICK: We race cars on the weekend, and the business is conducted during the week. The racing part of it is something that’s done for fun. And a lot of people take for granted the things that happen on Saturday and Sunday.
But the reason that a lot of those things happen, and we have been somewhat successful keeping our cars funded and keeping things headed in the right direction from a sponsorship side or the relationships, you’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to meet people. You’ve got to talk to people. You’ve got to do things that are above and beyond your contract, and you’ve got to know the people that are your sponsors and that are internally working on the sponsorships to make them go around, and have that interaction with them on a weekly basis.
So it’s something that we feel like our relationships have built over the years and I think our sponsors enjoy being a part of our team. Obviously everybody wants to win on the racetrack but off the racetrack is just as important.
Q. Curious about the 48 car’s appeal, and what I wanted to get from you was, is this appeal like a Supreme Court ruling where you think NASCAR has to take a look at what was said in the appeal and have them act accordingly? Is that how it works in the garage?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I can’t believe it took this long for somebody to ask this question about the 48.
You know, there’s a lot of scenarios. There’s a lot of parties involved here. I think in NASCAR’s situation with the car that we currently race, the inspection process, they have wanted to rule it with an iron fist and make sure that nobody got out of bounds and they wanted — when you did something that they felt was out of bounds, they wanted to make sure that you knew and that it sent a message through the garage that that was something not to be messed with.
As we have gone through the years with this car, you see a lot more people grinding on their cars. You see a lot more people beating their cars with a hammer. I think when you start talking about $100,000 and $150,000 fines, those are big fines and the points are a big part, as well.
One thing for me that’s always been a part of NASCAR racing is the innovation that the teams and the crews and the people have. Obviously if you have a car that comes and has multiple areas, whether it be seat post or roofs, and have all of these things on one car that NASCAR feels is tremendously out of bounds, then you feel like those penalties and things are warranted and deserved.
I think when you start talking about a crew chief maybe pushing one section here, there’s really no harm of cutting it off at the racetrack and making them fix it.
The way it used to work is you missed a lot of practice, and the inspection process through the weeks becomes a little bit harder on that particular car. And sometimes I think that’s a good thing because you don’t have these crew chiefs scared to death of being innovative and trying to think outside of the box and try to make their cars better, because they are going to get a $150,000 fine and six-week suspension and the car chief is gone and all this stuff.
So I think there has to be a little bit of room in there left for the crew chiefs to be able to be innovative. And if NASCAR cuts a seat post off and says, hey, don’t bring that back; and you bring it back again the next week, then there’s probably something there that you feel is justified for a huge penalty, because you’ve just basically turned your back to it and said, we don’t want to do this.
I like the fact that there has to be some innovation from the teams to the crew chiefs and it’s such a fine line between keeping the car so the inspection process is 100% the way that NASCAR wants it and the competitors feel like that they can still work within a box to try to gain an advantage.
So it’s a very fine line and I’m glad I’m not NASCAR, because it’s a tough line to walk and obviously the appeals process is there for these situations where the competitor feels like they didn’t do anything wrong, and NASCAR thinks you’re trying to pull one over on them and they felt like they can’t necessarily believe any crew chief because they are probably not going to tell you the truth ever. So it’s a tough line to walk.
Q. As a competitor do you hope there is equity in the judicial system set up by NASCAR?
KEVIN HARVICK: This is not the first time that fines have been overturned or changed or made worse. That process has been there for a long time and I feel like the competitors feel like they at least have a chance if they feel like they have been fined with something that they don’t feel is wrong.
Q. Going back to Bristol one more time, did you have any preference as a driver, old versus new?
KEVIN HARVICK: I’m all old. Any time you run 200 laps at Bristol with no cautions, it’s going to get boring fast in my opinion.
Q. Did you feel you could pass on the new surface or was everybody just going the same speed and even if you got in the outside lane, it was extremely difficult.
KEVIN HARVICK: Unless you had major handling problems, you could get in the high lane and hold off a car that was a couple tenths faster for sure. That’s the hard part about it. You had the high line that you get in that you could carry so much momentum off the corner. Everybody’s running so close to the same speed that you just didn’t see as much passing with the new style racetrack that I think everybody had hoped for.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you Kevin, we appreciate you taking the time this afternoon.
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