NASCAR Teleconference featuring Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 GM Goodwrench Service Plus Monte Carlo and Richard Childress, owner of Richard Childress Racing.
Obviously this has been a whirlwind for you. How happy are you that we' re going to Bristol this weekend?
Kevin Harvick: "It has been a whirlwind. But we're looking forward to going to Bristol. It's probably my most favorite track on the whole circuit. We won a Busch race there last year and we've always ran good there in the Truck and in the Busch car. I'm looking forward to it, I love racing there, and can't wait to get there."
Are you getting more comfortable in the car now in the transition to the Winston Cup Series?
Kevin Harvick: "Yeah. Obviously I have to get to know Kevin (Hamlin, crew chief) and the guys and they have to get to know me. I've just got to fit in with them. They're already a knit bunch of guys that understand how each other works. The longer races are a lot different for me and keeping my mind set on racing 400 or 500 miles. That's been the biggest challenge for me so far. Physically it hasn't been a problem. Last week (at Darlington) I didn 't even break a sweat. It's been okay so far and we've just got to keep learning and doing the things we're doing."
After winning Atlanta, are trying to keep a leash on your own personal expectations or are you trying not to?
Kevin Harvick: "I think we have to keep everything in perspective. The most realistic thing coming into the second race of the year was that we thought we could win a race something during this year. We have one year to do what we want to do and do everything we can for Dale Earnhardt and in memory of him. Right now, I think we just unleash everything we can and try and knock records down and try and do whatever comes to mind. It has been the craziest year of my life and things have really just been off the wall so far. It's pretty cool, but we also understand that there's a realistic factor in here somewhere that has to take place."
After the win in Atlanta, how did you look back at your race in Darlington last week and was it still pleasing to you in some ways?
Kevin Harvick: "Kevin Hamlin and I talked about this yesterday. If we wouldn't have won the week before, and we finished 8th in Las Vegas, we finished 14th in Rockingham. To come to Darlington for the first time and race 400 miles, I think we have to be pleased. We finished on the lead lap. I learned how to over adjust the racecar and how not to do that again. We didn't run into the fence but once and we kept going and finished the race. That was our main objective at Darlington. We understood that it was going to be a long day. I learned a lot. They learned a lot about me. We just have to continue to do things like that."
How overwhelming has this new position been for you with the fans, the media, and everyone?
Kevin Harvick: "My father taught me a long time ago that there would be situations in my life that I wouldn't know how to deal with. And he told me to just deal with them the best that I could and if you can't do what somebody else wants, well, that's all you can do. It's an overwhelming situation. If could have been a whole lot worse if everybody had taken a negative attitude towards it. But the race fans have taken me in with open arms and understand that I can't replace Dale Earnhardt and that I'm not going to try to replace Dale Earnhardt. If it wasn't for the race teams and the fans and everybody in NASCAR, this thing could have been overwhelming and out of control and I could be one of the most hated guys in the sport. But everybody understands that I'm trying to help the situation and everybody's trying to help me. It's really been a close-knit situation with everybody coming together and helping each other. We've made the best out of the situation that I think we possible could have."
At the Atlanta race, was there a stray tire carcass between turns 3 & 4?
Kevin Harvick: "They told me that there was a piece of debris in turns three and four. They told me it was right in the middle of the race track, to go either high or low. On the last lap when you're trying to hold somebody off for the win, and all the circumstances that have been following us for the last three or four weeks, and we're coming down to the finish line to win the race. I remember them telling me about it, and I don't remember going by it, but I remember not hitting anything. I know it was there 'cause I saw it after the race. I think it went down to the apron. It really didn't affect anything that we did."
Regarding Bristol, why does a guy like Rusty Wallace seem to dominate that track?
Kevin Harvick: "They've obviously found something there and he's real comfortable racing there. I personally love Bristol because it reminds me a little bit of Bakersfield, California where I grew up racing and where I cut my teeth on a half-mile, high-banked race track. I look forward to going to Bristol and I don't understand why everybody hat's building new race tracks doesn't build more like Bristol because that's by far what the race fans want to see the most and by far is the best racing action that you'll see all year. I'm really looking forward to running both races there."
Is Wallace's success there intimidating to the other drivers?
Kevin Harvick: "Anytime you can dominate a race track, everybody thinks you 're going to go there and run good and you expect yourself to go there and run good. And nine times out of 10, when you expect yourself to run good, you will. There's such a mental aspect to this sport that when you're on somewhere - even if you're off a little bit - you're going to make up that little bit that you're off and you're going to be right there."
With the transition, what has been the biggest adjustment and the most unexpected adjustment?
Kevin Harvick: "Obviously the biggest thing I've had to adjust to is the overwhelming support of the fans. You're constantly around people and signing autographs. I've had to learn that when I have time, I need to really concentrate on giving back to the fans what they have so graciously given with open arms to me. Sometimes I figure I don't have time and I can' t do everything. So I'm learning how to balance right now. One of the other things I've learned is that you're going to get some criticism because now there's an overwhelming number of people that are watching you and that are around you. You have to take the criticism with all the positives. All of a sudden Kevin Harvick has a lot of critics and he has to be the one that takes it all in stride and goes on with it."
Has that been a difficult adjustment for you?
Kevin Harvick: "Not really. I'm one of those people that takes everything in stride and learns by everything that surrounds me. It's been a learning experience, but it hasn't bothered me yet."
What are your thoughts about racing at Texas, which is the same basic configuration as the Atlanta track?
Kevin Harvick: "We're really looking forward to going to Texas too because we could have won the Busch race there too but we had a little miscalculation in the pits on the gas mileage and wound up getting down two laps, making them up and finished 9th. So we ran good there last year. We' ve got some notes from the Busch car that we're going to take to the Cup car. There's a little trick that I learned in the Truck there that really helped me in the Busch car. Being as we ran so good in Atlanta, the Cup guys have good notes and they ran decent there last year with Mike Skinner and Dale (Earnhardt). I like the mile and a half racetracks and I like the speeds. Texas has been good to us."
How is running a full schedule of Winston Cup races going to affect your bid for the Busch Series championship?
Kevin Harvick: "It's going to take its toll. We're going to have to start in the back for five or six races because we're going to have to run Winston Cup qualifying and Happy Hour. We're going to have to give a little. We've come from the back many times before. Kevin Harvick's not the greatest qualifier and I understand that. It's going to have an affect on the Busch car and maybe just a little on the Cup car. But we're a tough bunch of people and we like challenges and we're looking forward to it."
Can you talk more about being a rookie that's thrust into this transition a little more? What was it like that first week in Rockingham?
Kevin Harvick: "I think we were still in a state of shock. Those guys worked until midnight every night when they knew I was going to drive the car. We knew we had to go on. We knew things were obviously going to change. They were the ones who didn't want to see the Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress legacy die in an instant when Dale had his tragic passing. That whole week was real quiet. Nobody said a whole lot to each other. Dale wouldn't want us to quit. He'd want us to carry on with what he and Richard had built. That's still what's driving us right now and keeping our attitudes positive. It was obviously a very strange week. There was a lot of emotion and a lot on everyone's minds. When you thought about something and got down for a second, there was always somebody to pick you back up and remind you about all the positive things that Dale brought to each person on that race team. We really just had to gather together as a group that's what's driving us right now. It was different but we all got through it together and we're still getting through it."
Do you think you're going to have to revisit your decision to run both Winston Cup and Busch schedules as time goes on?
Kevin Harvick: "Right now we're committed to run both schedules. But obviously if something comes down to it and we get in the middle of July and I'm having to take IV's every week to keep myself going, then we're not going to be able to do it. Right now, all those people who are saying we can 't do it or that we shouldn't do it are the ones that are driving us forward. All they're doing is adding fuel to the fire. Making me eat better, drink more water, making me go to the gym more, and making those guys in the shop try to figure out how to make the schedule even easier. I think the only thing we need right now is a jet fuel sponsor to keep going to each race. But as of right now we're committed to doing it unless something jumps out that stop us from doing it. If something does jump out, we'll have to stop and re-do things to try to make it the best we can for everybody."
You've come out of the box quickly. How is your relationship with (crew chief) Kevin Hamlin?
Kevin Harvick: "We're still learning and we're going to learn for a long time. When you stop learning in the sport of auto racing - about each other, your crew chief, driver, tires, or whatever - you need to go find something else to do because you're going to get beat up on. We've come out of the box good. Kevin has gone to a lot of the Winston Cup tests that we ran last year at Kentucky and Homestead. We've actually worked together before. Todd Berrier, my Busch crew chief, and Kevin get along real well. Kevin has worked real hard with Todd to understand what I like in a racecar. Every time we've ran the car so far in the last four weeks, it's unloaded off the trailer fast. We've ran pretty good in qualifying and we've ran in the race pretty good. He's worked with Todd in trying to figure out what I like. We' ll get better and understand more in the future."
How do you stay out of trouble at Bristol?
Kevin Harvick: "I think the best way to stay out of trouble at Bristol is to stay up front. You really can't dodge trouble completely because there's so much going on. You're always up on top of the steering wheel and there's such tight quarters that even if you're leading the race, you can wind up in trouble. Staying up front is the key to staying out of trouble."
What is your approach and just how physical will you be at Bristol?
Kevin Harvick: "My opinion is that the aggressor always wins. Nine times out of 10, the one who is more aggressive will come out in front. That's my approach. If you're the mild-mannered type of person, you're going to get run over. That's my opinion, but that's how I approach the race at Bristol."
How much of an advantage is it to come into a well-seasoned team like the GM Goodwrench team?
Kevin Harvick: "It really has helped. I don't have to worry about coming to the racetrack and wonder if the thing's going to go into turn or if it's going to turn good. I can pull it out of the garage, pull out of pit lane, shift through the gears in the first lap, and it's going to be pretty close. Just having the confidence in the race team knowing that they've been to every track. It helps me focus mentally as far as racing and experience. Richard and Kevin can help guide me through situations that they've been through before. If I'd have to come in with a whole new team, it would have been big. So it's really helped me a bunch."
Is there a track on the circuit that is going to be a particular challenge for you?
Kevin Harvick: "Right now, the biggest challenge we see on paper is Pocono. I've never been there, never seen it. We've scheduled a test there. We're going to go try to work the bugs out there. There's some new racetracks like Chicago and Kansas City and we're going to probably go to those too. Other than that, we're just going to take it one week at a time and try to do the best we can."
How is your new bride handling this new situation?
Kevin Harvick: "She's the one who keeps me calm. DeLana has worked in the PR business for Jeff Gordon and Randy LaJoie for a lot of years. She understands the situations I'm going through, and she can kind of lead me through the situations before I get there. A lot of people think that Kevin Harvick has handled it well, but I've got a good girl behind me helping guide me through all these situations. I've got a good girl behind secret weapon in my back pocket."
What were the things that attracted you to selecting Kevin Harvick as a driver, and do you think he is similar to Dale Earnhardt at certain tracks like Bristol?
Richard Childress: "I'd like to compare him really to how he drove the racetrack last year. He was aggressive when he had to be. He patient when he needed to be. Right there at the end, we had a red flag with four or five laps to go and man, we didn't need hat. But he was just calm and cool. That's what you've got to be at Bristol. You can't get excited. And he really did a great job last year and we're looking forward to this race."
Any plans to let the fans see the black No. 3 color scheme again, maybe next year?
Richard Childress: "Right now we're not that far down the road with next year. Right now, we want to build an image around Kevin Harvick. If it's the 29 number or the white car, we'll discuss that with Goodwrench this winter. As far as the black No. 3, yeah, we would like to do something. Maybe at the end of the year. Teresa Earnhardt and I will decide the direction we want to go with that."
What are your plans for a third team?
Richard Childress: "We took a step back because that's where we originally had Kevin lined up to do those races, and Atlanta was actually going to be his first race with the America Online car. So now, what we've done is we're going to make the announcement of the driver this weekend. We're going to run seven races and we'll give that schedule out at Bristol as well. We're excited about it. It's a great company and great people to be with. I feel you need the third team. That's one thing that Dale and I had talked about in depth this past winter, about what we needed to do at RCR to keep these teams stronger."
Do you still have the car that Dale Earnhardt won in at Talladega, and do you have any special plans for it?
Richard Childress: "Yeah, we've got it. Basically, we've got all the cars that he's raced. Kevin's is going to run some of 'em. Once Kevin quits running them, I'll probably put them all back in the original condition. But we've got the car sitting out here that he won Talladega with."
When you changed the car from 3 to 29 and from black to white, did you have any second thoughts when you saw Kevin coming around the fourth turn at Atlanta?
Richard Childress: "So much was going through my mind and I seen the finish and that the scoreboard didn't change and that we had won the race with Kevin, there was so many things going through my mind that I think in my mind and in my heart, the black No. 3 Goodwrench car will always be Dale Earnhardt. Now putting Kevin in the Goodwrench with the No. 29, that's what we're wanting to build on there. But you've got a good point. It would have been neat for the fans and all if as he crossed (the finish line) it could have blew all that white off and it would have turned black No. 3 it would have been great. We don't know yet what we're going to do. We're talking to NASCAR a little about the No. 3. I've got my own thoughts on what I want to do. I'm going to share them with NASCAR and then we'll go forward from there."
As an owner, do you have any reward systems for your people outside of money and benefits and that type of thing?
Richard Childress: "We try to give them a good, safe place to work here. We try to give them time off to spend with their families. We try to fly back & forth to these tracks to give them time off with their families. Right now, with the schedule and everything, we just want to keep from burning our people out. We have bonus plans and retirement and financial plans but we try to keep them with their family as much as they can."
Are the costs of participating in NASCAR getting out of hand and does that concern you?
Richard Childress: "I think it's a concern of everyone plus NASCAR as well. The cost of racing is going up and some of it is just due to the technology. I walked through the shop today and there are just so many things that are there that weren't there a year ago. It takes more qualified people and that runs the salary base up. It's just a never-ending deal. If you want to be competitive, you got to spend cubic dollars."
Recently, more rookies have had early success. Is more talent being attracted to the sport or what's your theory on that?"
Richard Childress: "I think that's probably a lot to do with it. The majority of it is the talent that's out there today in that age group that are just exceptional race drivers - like Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. It's just unbelievable the talent that's setting right there. Today, NASCAR has got it to where you can get in a car that's well backed and you can do pretty good. Years ago, people wouldn't put a rookie into a car of a caliber like this, but I think with the talent these guys like Kevin Harvick have, we didn't hesitate one minute knowing what we needed to do in that circumstance."
When you see guys like Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman and a couple others, do you think this trend will continue?
Richard Childress: "I think so. There's no doubt about it. There's some other young drivers out there that we've got our eye on now. You have to keep looking down the road. It's just one of those things that's a never-ending deal to try to keep up with your drivers. But Kevin, too, at his age he's got a lot of years to go and I hope he's right here at RCR."
How are you holding up through all this?
Richard Childress: "I'm kind of taking it day by day. What I try to do now is try to think of all the good times. I think it gets me by. We never had many bad times. We had some tough times. But thinking of all the good times Dale and I had together as friends, and then all the good times we had together as teammates, is how I'm getting by. I just tell myself those were the good times. I'm a very fortunate person to be able to do some of the things I did with Dale Earnhardt."
Is there one that stands out?
Richard Childress: "There's so many of them that I couldn't pick one and just say that's it, you know. I've got a lot of hunting stories I could tell you, a lot of racing stories, a lot of stories on boats. Those are the things that get you by in the tough times and having your friends to lean on. I've had a tremendous outpour of friends, and that's helped me get through this."
All things considered, what has most impressed you about Kevin Harvick's transition during the past four weeks?
Richard Childress: "I think just the amount of pressure, and there's got to be some pressure there, and he never shows it. Not on the racetrack, not in the media. He's solid. He's been able to help us through this transition so much by being able to keep the car out there and keep it competitive. I don't know what we'd of done if we hadn't had Kevin Harvick. I'll just put it like that."
Has he shown any signs of vulnerability?
Richard Childress: "Not to me. I think he's handled himself great both on and off the racetrack. When the drivers tell you they're comfortable running with him, you know he's doing things right on the racetrack."
Can you talk about how Dale Earnhardt liked to have his seatbelts mounted?
Richard Childress: "I respect the question very much, but what I'd like to do is hold that for any other times that we're going to have a talk about safety and whenever NASCAR comes out with their reports. I think that will be a good question whenever that comes out, but thanks for the question."
What are you doing to help Kevin Harvick get through the hectic schedule of both Winston Cup and Busch?
Richard Childress: "Right now, we've been looking at the schedule and trying to figure there's a couple places we're going to have to get someone to qualify the car and talking about maybe taking that person and Kevin and seeing where they like the feel of the car. When Kevin gets in there, he'll know how the car's going to feel for race day. This driver that we put in there would kind of know what Kevin would want with the car. That's one of the things that we're looking at trying to do and trying to have the right aircraft and transportation to make all this come together."
With the circumstances the way they were for Kevin, were you surprised by the results?
Richard Childress: "I don't get very surprised with anything you see Kevin do on the racetrack 'cause the talent is there. I think we were all surprised to win that early. I felt the second time around for him and Kevin Hamlin to work together through the whole circuit, we would have went to Atlanta and we would have been better. And I think we'll get better race-by-race. But for him to go out and be able to do what he's done in these four races is just - well, I'm just super impressed with it."
As a Chevrolet owner, are you concerned about the new motor that Dodge has and do you think you're going to have to build a new motor to compete against the Dodge motor?
Richard Childress: "We're always trying to have some R&D work going and trying to stay ahead if someone comes with something to try and have another piece just like I know Ford is doing. Each manufacturer has to be trying to keep another generation out in front of you in case the competition comes with something better and then it's in NASCAR's hands to decide what they want to do when it comes time to make those changes. But if they do, you've got to have something so you can say, 'Okay, I have a cylinder head too I would like to introduce.' So it's a never-ending deal. You've got to stay on top of your technology."
Do you have any concerns about Kevin's ability to do both the Winston Cup and Busch schedules this year?
Richard Childress: "We made a commitment to ACDelco earlier this year an that's one of the reasons we want to do it. I think it's great for Kevin. Like at Atlanta (where) he had ran the Busch race the day before, and this past week at Darlington, he ran the Busch race. I think it can be a big plus. Dale and I used to talk about that when he used to run the Busch races before. I think it can be a plus for a driver, but then we don't want to get him down. He's in good physical shape. He works out and eats right. I think as long as we don't see a fatigue factor coming in, and I don't think we will, I think we can go forward with it and try to run all the races. The weather could be a factor. Qualifying could be a factor. But other than that, I think we'll be in good shape with it."
With your championship equipment, is this a team that you think can run in contention for the championship?
Richard Childress: "It's going to be a tough deal because of some of the tracks. About the only one Kevin hasn't been to is Pocono and the two new ones, but that's going to be equal for everyone. It's a little tough just to jump out the first year and think say yeah, we can win a championship. But we're going to run hard and take it race by race. We're looking pretty good in the points -- to have missed a race -- right now."
Going back to Atlanta, were you absolutely stunned with a couple of those moves?
Richard Childress: "Just to run in the top five was going to be great. But when I seen him make that move, and get out in front of those guys I thought we had a chance to win now. Then with one or two to go, we seen Jeff (Gordon) come and I knew Jeff was going to give him a run. Jeff had a really good car that day. Dale Jarrett had a good car that day. Kevin had a good car and Kevin made the right moves. He could have went low or went in the middle or anything and lost the race. But he did what he thought was right when he went high. It was just a great win, a great victory for RCR - and for the race fans. I think the race fans needed an uplifting and it was great for everybody involved."
Back to the cost thing, Andy Petree said if NASCAR would reduce the engine power by 100 horsepower it would save a lot of money. Do you agree? And how would NASCAR go about that?
Richard Childress: "I think one of the things that NASCAR is looking at that will save the owners a lot of money is if like the 400 mile and less Busch races, go in there -- especially with the schedule they've got - go in there and do away with the qualifying engines. Let us qualify and race the same engines. Now I think that would be a larger savings, really, than knocking a 100hp. It would help some, but we just went up about 200 or I guess 175 from Busch to Cup. It's more expensive to run more horsepower. But I think it would take more than 100hp to make the difference. And I think there would have to be some rules on the weight components and stuff because of all the materials that's out there today, if you've got the money you can just about put what you need in these engines to make them go."
Have you talked to Mike Skinner about how the HANS device worked for him in getting out of the car at Darlington?
Richard Childress: "Yes we did. He came to the shop yesterday and sat in the car and set his belts up to try and figured out what he thought why it took him just a little longer to get out. It wasn't so much the HANS device - I guess in the middle of everything he said if he'd pulled the left net down, and he just didn't think - that helped him up a little bit, but he had the straps on it and when he wrecked, he slid down a little in the seat, went forwards in the seat, and it got his belts against the steering wheel and that's what helped. He couldn't get that part of it loose to start with. So he went over it and we talked. We're going to try some new stuff and see if we can't make it a little quicker getting in and out of the cars with the HANS device on it."
What first caught your eye about Kevin Harvick?
Richard Childress: "I had some other people mention his name, but I had watched him race before. Just his driving style was really one of the big things. We had a (Craftsman) Truck and I really watched him in that. And I watched him run a couple other races on the West Coast. I knew that he had the talent. And when you win a championship - and it doesn't matter what you win a championship in - it's tough. And if you know how to win a championship, you can come back east and win a championship in the right situation. I think he knows what it takes to keep a car out of trouble. I think he's championship caliber all the way."
What is happening with the AOL ride?
Richard Childress: "We're going to make that announcement this weekend at Bristol. We're going to run seven races and we're going to announce the schedule, the driver, and we're getting ready to go test the car here in a couple of weeks. We're going to get the driver comfortable with the guys we 've put together and we're excited about it. I think it's going to be a great program and it's going to be great for RCR to put this program together."
-Team Monte Carlo