Brickyard 400 victory helped Harvick escape legend's shadow INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 10, 2004 -- When Kevin Harvick won the Brickyard 400 from the pole last August, it helped him slip out from the under the "shadow you'll never get rid ...
Brickyard 400 victory helped Harvick escape legend's shadow
INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, March 10, 2004 -- When Kevin Harvick won the Brickyard 400 from the pole last August, it helped him slip out from the under the "shadow you'll never get rid of."
That shadow, of course, is the greatness of late seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt. Team owner Richard Childress chose Harvick to replace Earnhardt after Earnhardt's death in February 2001, even if it wasn't in the storied No. 3 car.
Harvick, who drives the No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet, was in Indianapolis on March 9 to receive his 2003 Brickyard 400 winner's ring from Tony George, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and participate in a special preview showing of "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience" at the downtown IMAX theater.
George presented the 14-carat, eight-diamond engraved ring to Harvick in a ceremony before the showing and said: "I'm sure there will be many more. He's a great champion."
Harvick, whose wife, DeLana, attended with him, graciously accepted the ring and said winning at Indy was "ultra-special."
"I grew up an open-wheel fan and grew up in Bakersfield (California) with the whole Mears family and racing against Casey, watching Rick win four Indianapolis 500s," he said. "For me, this is extra-special. Obviously, for anyone who wins the Brickyard 400 it means a lot, so to come down here today, they didn't have to ask me twice.
"I was ready to come and take it very happily. And we appreciate everything you guys do for the sport."
After the movie, Harvick talked about how difficult it was to replace a revered racing legend. Earnhardt had won seven season championships to match Richard Petty and won 76 races before his death in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Three races into his career -- on March 11, 2001 -- Harvick edged Jeff Gordon by .006 of a second to win at Atlanta and remove some of the intense pressure that comes with replacing a legend. Harvick's victory last August at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway also matched the one scored by Earnhardt in the second Brickyard 400, in 1995.
"To be honest with you, it was very hard at the beginning, because I've always been somebody who made my own footsteps, got to where we were by performing well and doing the things we were doing," he said of replacing Earnhardt. "I was very aggressive.
"We stepped into the situation with Dale's car and did everything we did in 2001. It was like the shadow you'll never get rid of. But he had taken our sport to what it is today. He's responsible for making the Goodwrench car what it is today, and we respect that.
"But it's good now to get out of your car and understand those guys, Todd (crew chief Todd Berrier) and all the guys on our car, those guys have been with me since the Busch (Series) days, and it really feels good to know they are there for our situation."
Harvick called winning the IROC title at Indy in 2002 and the Brickyard 400 pole and race in 2003 "pretty phenomenal," noting that all teams and drivers put special emphasis on the annual NASCAR classic at Indianapolis.
This year's Brickyard 400 on Aug. 8 is the 21st race of the NEXTEL Cup Series season. The cutoff for the Chase for the Championship -- the final 10 races of the season in which the top 10 and those within 400 points of the leader will race for the title -- is the 26th race.
"I think the closer you get to 26, the more frantic the weeks become," Harvick said. "Being the 21st race, obviously it's worth the effort everybody puts into it. This is going to add just that much more pressure to that weekend."
Harvick slipped from a possible top-five finish to 21st on March 7 at Las Vegas when his car ran out of gas on the final lap. He dropped to sixth in the standings.
The movie, in some ways, is a salute to Earnhardt and how his presence brought stock car racing into the mainstream of sport in the United States. Harvick, 28, has become one of the young guns that now are the stars of the 21st century.
The film takes the viewer from the early days of NASCAR to the present and then puts the viewer into the seat of the car at 180 mph, in the shops, the garages and pits.
"The thing about it," Harvick said of the film, "is they used actual events, so it's pretty hard to get it wrong when you're going along using actual footage. All those pit stops and everything were actually filmed during a race.
"They did a good job. And they spent a lot of time in the garage shooting inspections and through the races and things. They did a good job getting all the footage that they needed."
So, what did Harvick look for in the film?
"I spend most of the time looking for our car," he said. "I don't know whether that's right or wrong, but it's just good for all the sponsors in the sport to get involved in something this big, and all the racetracks, the whole sport of NASCAR. It's big for everybody involved.
"I think everybody should see it, especially the people who aren't NASCAR fans and really don't understand the sport. I think it is a quick, brief look at what goes on week in, week out through our teams and sport."
Brickyard 400 tickets: Tickets for the 11th annual Brickyard 400 on Aug. 8 are on sale.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com or by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.