Transcript: 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Preseason Thunder Testing at Daytona
January 21, 2011
An Interview With
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, Kevin. Let's hear your take on the new surface and all that you discovered.
KEVIN HARVICK: Obviously the surface is going to be pretty exciting for everybody just for the fact that it's really smooth, it's got a lot of grip. They did a great job paving the racetrack. So it's basically everything in the car will be what we have at Talladega, and you come here with the most speed that you think you have and everything that you need to do to do that.
So it's going to be a little bit narrower than Talladega, so the chess match will still be the same. And should be the same exciting racing. So you just don't have to worry about the handling aspect of it for a while. Just put the speed in your car and play the game.
Q: Some teams have talked about the fact that they don't plan to draft at all here this week. How do you guys stand on that? And I guess they're concerned about getting in a wreck, losing a car, or whatever. Is that -- would you not learn enough from being in a big pack on the new surface with a lot of cars to equal that out?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think for us we came with a checklist, don't care what the score board says, don't care if you hit on something, you're going to run down the checklist, you're going to run through the things that you want to run through, and that's it.
I mean, that's what we're going to do. We're not going to draft. We felt like they did what they needed -- they learned what they needed to learn at the tire test down here with Paul and Jeff, so it's -- you're going to get plenty of time when you come back for Speedweeks to kind of do whatever you want, but practice is just not going to be at a premium like it used to be here because of the fact you don't have to worry about the tires, you don't have to worry about handling of the car, you just have to play the game and try to get yourself in position and get the most speed out of your car that you can.
This is -- what's the date today? It's late. It's almost February. So that's -- these cars, it's unbelievable the amount of time and preparation that go into these particular cars. You know, a normal race car you can put a body on in four days, and these particular race cars will probably take twice that long just in the fab shop, and these cars all run through the wind tunnel once or twice at a minimum and then you take them and usually run them somewhere in the desert.
So there's just hours upon hours put into these race cars, and they're not like a normal downforce car. So when you tear one up, you're looking at putting yourself behind a month on one car to properly do it.
Sure, you can build the car and you can paint it and you can put it all in there, but the final details of the car take months and hours and hours. It's just not in the rotation at this point in the season to tear your car up.
Q: This 500 will mark the ten-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt's passing. As his successor, can you talk about that legacy?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, you know, I think it's been -- you guys all know, I was very uncomfortable with it in the beginning, didn't like it, didn't want to be a part of it, and you know, as the last three or four years have come, I've learned to become more comfortable. And I think the biggest reason is we've been able to accomplish a lot of things on our own. So that for me is something that makes me a little bit more comfortable with it.
And the hardest part for me to learn was just the fact that a lot of times it wasn't somebody trying to make you do something like he did, it was just somebody complimenting on things that he did and things that we've been able to do.
So it's just -- you know, the day was tough for everybody at RCR and everybody involved in it and for the whole sport in general, but as we look back ten years, I think when you look at the safety of the tracks and the safety of the cars and the attention that NASCAR has paid to those things that have changed really the racing world, not just NASCAR in general, it's changed the world of racing from top to bottom. And those are the things that you can draw so many positives now out of something that was so devastating for the whole sport.
A lot of things changed on that day.
Q: Turn 2 and Turn 4, the transition, Tony Stewart and I think Martin Truex were both saying that it's even more abrupt than what it was before. It's real smooth and you guys would like to run three wide through there, but can you talk about Turn 2 and the way it drops off under you?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think the higher you get the more abrupt it is off of 2, but that's basically how it used to be. It's just -- the hardest thing for me is the lines are -- the yellow line like at Talladega is actually painted I believe on the racetrack and the one here is off the racetrack on the apron.
So yesterday I touched the apron and about wrecked, so I think that that's going to be the biggest deal is just keeping your car off the apron because it seems like as you go into the corners there used to be a little bit more transition as far as the banking, leading up to the actual banking itself. That, or it was just so wore out that you couldn't really tell.
But it seems like the apron is going to be a big deal if you touch it.
Q: I have two questions, two totally different topics. The first one is what you were saying when you were uncomfortable those first few years, why? What about that was difficult for you? And the second question, much lighter, how has the adjustment been working with Budweiser? How have you enjoyed that, settling into such a different realm of sponsorship?
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, I think the transition has been easy. We'll answer that one first. Obviously our sponsor Budweiser has been in the sport for a very long time and has just a -- it's an iconic brand worldwide. Everything that's happened has been a lot of fun to say the least, and it's fun representing a brand that's -- you enjoy representing, so that makes life a lot easier. It's one of those things that when you look at the back at the drivers and the people that have been in the Budweiser car, it's just part of NASCAR, and to be in that car and have the car black and RCR is pretty cool. We've definitely had a lot of fun, and we will continue to have a lot of fun.
But as far as being uncomfortable with the Earnhardt stuff, I think everything we did was backwards. I went into 2000, and we never had anything. We had always -- beat my own path as we went along.
Same thing happened in 2000 with starting the Nationwide program, get to 2001 and you're planning on racing for a championship in the Nationwide Series and then coming out and running a few Cup races, just signed a new sponsor for Cup the year after that, and then it all changed. Instantly it's like everybody knows your name, everybody knows what you're doing, so you start from the wrong end of the spectrum and you don't have time -- a lot of times when you come into something new you have time to learn. You have time to learn what you're supposed to say, when you're supposed to do things, how you're supposed to do it.
I think as we went into that situation you start off with the biggest press conference that you'll ever have in your whole career and you have more fans than you'll ever have and you don't know how to manage your time, you don't know how to manage your money, you don't know what to say, and all of a sudden you have all that stuff at once. So instantly I just put up my defense and it was easier just not to talk about it.
So I was 25 and didn't really know exactly what direction that life was going to go, and instantly you had everything that you wanted but you didn't have to do anything for it. So it just didn't all make sense to me.
And I think as I went through the years and we were able to kind of do the same thing as we had done in the previous parts of my career, I think I became more comfortable with that just because it wasn't anybody just trying to tell you how to do something, it was everybody trying to compliment you on doing a good job.
You just happened to be in that car and that car is important to the sport, and the history that Richard and Dale made will always about at RCR, so it's not something you need to try to get away from, it's something that you need to understand and respect, and I think as you look at the sport, it's the same way. There's always going to be a part of the history of the sport and a big reason for the sport is at the level that it is today.
So I think it's important to kind of continue that legacy at RCR, and so far it's going okay.
Q: Coming off a season with momentum, this season what would be a dream season for you and, conversely, what would be a nightmare season for you?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, you can look back two years and see the nightmare. You can still remember that, and I still think that's a lot of what drives the whole company, including myself. Those are the things that you don't want to experience is 2009 all over again.
But the biggest thing is it's all about winning a championship at this point, nothing else. Nothing else is good enough at this particular point in time. So it's great to have a good year, and we had a good year last year, but in the end it's all about taking home the one trophy that we don't have, and that's the championship trophy. It's been a long time for Richard and it's been a long time since we've been able to experience that as a company, and we've experienced that a lot together as far as Nationwide championships and things like that, truck championships as owners. But those aren't good enough, either.
So I think it's just one of those things where I felt like the last ten weeks last year taught us a lot about who we were and who we need to be and what we need to do to race for those championships, because it's just different.
And to keep that level for ten weeks is something that we'd never done before, and we did that last year, and I felt like we learned from those experiences. And whether we win or lose again, you still know in your mind how it needs to go and how the preparation needs to be from a team standpoint and from a mental standpoint, from a driver's standpoint. It's a different level.
Q: What does Daytona mean to you? You seem to be one of these guys that really loves this place rather than it's just another racetrack. You seem to have a real connection here.
KEVIN HARVICK: This is not just another racetrack. This is our biggest race. This is what the backbone of our sport is on a week-to-week basis as far as racetracks go. To win a Daytona 500, we've been fortunate to experience that.
There's no comparing it to any other race. A lot of people talk about the Brickyard, and you look at the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard, and there's no comparison to those two, either.
It's just our biggest race and it leads off the year and the anticipation coming into the Daytona 500 every year is bigger than any other race times ten. So from a driver's standpoint, there's nothing like rolling to the green flag at the Daytona 500 because you have a whole winter of anticipation, you have your shiniest, best new car, everybody has got everything brand new and it's the best that anybody will be prepared for the whole season.
There's no better feeling than getting through Speedweeks and rolling to that green flag for the first time.
Q: You had sort of an emotional attachment to this place?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, when you look at RCR in general, this place has been good to us from start to finish, from the first days of Earnhardt coming here and winning races, and they won a lot here, and we've been able to win some races here and always run well here. So it's just -- Richard puts a lot of effort into these types of races, and with effort comes success.
Q: How much do things change or not change between the end of last season and now, and how much do you know like you had the year that was bad, you did so well last year, other teams may have caught up, you may be making changes during the off-season yourself, changes at Richard Childress Racing, you have a fourth team. How much can you really expect to worry about or think about how things have changed since we left Homestead Miami, including being in a new car that may change your perspective on how you feel about everything?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think when you go through those types of things and you're as hungry as our team is to try to accomplish what we didn't accomplish last year, we didn't change anything. I tried not to get out of my routines. I work out on the same days, I went and had my physical on the same day I did last year, and we're doing the same things that we did last year. The only thing I did was change my phone code to 4848 so I don't remember who I have to beat.
Q: (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: I think the biggest thing for us is everybody is just excited. Everybody has enjoyed the way that Budweiser came in from a team standpoint and had the announcement at the shop and involved everybody in everything that we've done. Even in our commercial that we shot last week, the team is involved, it was shot at the building.
So everybody feels like they're a part of it, and that's just something that sometimes sponsors forget that it's not just about the driver, it's about the team. Those are the guys that make the thing happen. And they feel like they're a part of the program, so that's something that's pretty cool.
Q: You guys have been pretty successful in getting sponsorship at a time when sponsorship isn't exactly that easy to get, and there are some teams, let's face it, that have pretty much a lot of the same performance you guys do on the track who are struggling to find sponsorships. What do you think the key is? What are you guys doing differently, without revealing maybe any secrets, but what do you think is different that's making you guys -- helping you guys be so successful in that area?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, we're very aggressive as far as if somebody has got -- every company in the world has a different budget, and some people have small budgets and some people have big budgets, but I think we're good at adapting to whatever your budget is to make it work and make you get something out of it. Because the bottom line is, if it doesn't work for both sides, they're not coming back.
So you've got to stake a chance every once in a while on somebody saying that they're going to come in small, and a perfect example for us is -- I guess Rheem would be a good example. They started at the quarter panel on my Cup car and now they're 35 races on the Nationwide car, half of that being with Menards this year.
You just -- truck racing in general is a gamble on a week-to-week basis. You're not going to settle for a full season. If you do, you've hit the jackpot and it's probably not going to happen again. I think truck racing has been a very good training ground for us because you have to put week-to-week sponsorships together, you have to go in market and put small packages together so that you can sell your primaries for less.
So it's just being creative and being aggressive, and I'm on them every day as far as somebody is going to have to tell me what they did today, and we only have one guy, so it's not real time-consuming.
Q: Everybody is talking about how crazy the 500 is going to be and how it's going to be big packs all day and hard to get away. Is this going to be a race that's going to be determined by who doesn't make mistakes more than what you do positively to win the race?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think it's definitely going to be one big pack, and you're going to have -- it's going to be -- it's Talladega but narrower. That's really what it is. It's going to be the big pack and you're going to have the guys that don't want to race hanging out in the back and then trying to make time at the end.
But the thing that doesn't work quite as well here is the two-car breakaway. It seems to not be as effective as it is at the Talladega.
So it's going to be exciting. You have all that. On top of it you have just the first-race anticipation and everybody is jacked up. And everybody brings their fastest cars, and this year everybody is going to bring their best stuff and their shiniest stuff and you're going to come to a new racetrack, and everybody is aggressive.
And it's going to be -- could be one of the best races you've ever seen here in a long time, just the fact that nobody is going to get away unless they intentionally want to get behind, and that's the only way you're going to get away from the pack. So it'll be fun.
Q: NASCAR is supposedly going to change the points schedule next week and announce that. First of all, do you think there needed to be a change in the points system? And do you like what you're hearing about what they're going to do?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I have not -- I only read and hear what I see from you guys on the points thing.
For me, and this is just putting it into perspective, as you look at I got done with the season last year, and I got a text from Joe Girardi, he says, Hey, man, great year, good job; I don't understand how you can have the best year and not win. I don't understand your points system.
And for me, I think if you look at the new point system, I think it's easy to understand. And those are the people that need to understand it are the people who aren't here every week, live it, breathe it, and really understand how the sport works. It's the casual fan that we need to recapture and make it exciting and easily understandable.
So however that point system works out, I want it to be easy to understand for those types of people.
That just caught my attention as the season ended there.
Q: (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: Losing is never good, but, you know, I think as you look at what I think is proposed, I think it's easily understandable. But you don't ever want to lose.
Q: What was your reply to Joe Girardi?
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, at that particular time, it was the same day that the season ended, so I didn't really -- honestly, I couldn't even tell you what I replied.
Q: What do you expect out of KHI this year, and are you comfortable that you're at the level you want to be at with the organization?
KEVIN HARVICK: I feel really good about our Nationwide cars. Bringing Elliott in is going to give us our first good shot to race for a driver's championship. We've been competitive for the last couple years and racing for wins and building it to that point, but we've never had that experience behind the wheel. We took Ernie Cope and the old 33 team and put them with Elliott, so you have a really experienced team to race for a championship, and that's really what it's all about.
You know, as far as the 33 team we brought David Hyder in with a lot of experience, and then you have myself and Clint and Paul and Austin behind the wheel at a lot of the races. So you still have that same experience on that team. So as far as the Nationwide program, I feel very good about where it's at.
Short program was a total disaster. I know we won seven races between the teams last year, but, in my opinion, that's just not good enough. And it was just a wreck.
Ron struggled, not because Ron struggled, Ron struggled because the trucks just got into total disarray as the year progressed at the end of the year. I feel good about the direction that it's gone over the winter bringing in Jeff Hensley and Chris Carrier, promoting a car chief from the 33 car to the 2 truck, is -- it feels good in the shop. You never know until you get to the racetrack, and right now we're just trying to get everything back organized and correct, and I think when they unload at Daytona they'll be ready to go, when they unload at Phoenix they'll be ready to go.
It's just they're a little bit further behind because we just had to revamp the program. There was just too many people, too much change inside the organization last year as far as people go to get Ron where he needed to be, and I feel like he and Jeff are comfortable with each other. They've had a good test last week at Orlando.
And I feel like that's where it needs to be. As far as the winter goes, we added Nelson Piquet to come in. He was up to speed last week right off the bat last week.
So everything has been good. The truck program is a lot of work over the winter. It's always a lot of work on the sponsorship side just to keep them on the track. But it just feels a lot better than it did halfway through the season, and looking at the wind tunnel numbers and all the things that go with that, it's just -- there was nothing there to support what Ron needed to race for a championship.
And I feel like over the winter we've put all those things back into place and should be good. There's a lot of experience down there, and that's what you need in truck racing.
Q: Just personal dealings, is there a favorite memory that comes to the surface when it comes to dealing with Dale Earnhardt on or off the track as far as that goes?
KEVIN HARVICK: Probably one of my favorites was just the first time that we went and tested his car in Homestead. It wasn't the first time, but it was the first time we got in trouble for testing his car. But we went to Homestead in -- I guess it was 2000, right at the end of the year, and we went down and tested and we ran really fast. And we got to Phoenix the next week and he was irate because we had gone and tested his car and nobody told him, so he had -- he drug myself and Kevin Hamlin and Richard, and I don't know why Dale Jr. just happened to be in the trailer that day, but he was really pissed that nobody asked him to go. And Hamlin, I'm sure -- you guys all have talked to him, you know how he talks, in this kind of smart aleck way -- he says, Well, every time I ask you, you just don't want to go.
So we went anyway and ran faster than anybody else, and he was mad because everybody was asking him when he was going to retire and why people were testing his car and why he wasn't putting an effort in. So he was mad that day.
Q: Helton and Pemberton are coming in in about a half hour. We assume they're going to talk to us about the points as far as drivers declaring which points they're going to go for.
KEVIN HARVICK: Oh, okay, those points.
Q: Yes, those points. (Laughter.) Obviously you've seen your license application, you know the rule what do you think of it and what does it do as far as the chances of Sadler winning the title?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think as far as Elliott running for a championship, I think that's why we're so excited about what Elliott brings to the table. I feel like he could race for a championship either way just with the experience that he has and the experience of the team. You just don't go win races in the Cup Series, whether it was six, seven years ago, last week. You don't win those races and not know how to win at that level.
So he knows how to win. He's won -- he won a truck race last year. He ran well in the one Nationwide race that he ran, and we expect to go out and be competitive. I think anything less than him being competitive for the Nationwide championship will be a disappointment.
Q: (No microphone.)
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't know what rule you're talking about. I didn't read my form. I just signed it. Every time I'd look at it, it's already all filled out. If it was on there, I'm assuming somebody must have done that. Am I supposed to read that stuff? I just sign it and figure I'm going to have to sign it anyway if I want to race.