NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 6: Harvick Looks Forward to Owner's Role DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 12, 2004) -- Kevin Harvick believes ownership of his own NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team might give him a whole new perspective on the...
NASCAR Preseason Thunder Day 6: Harvick Looks Forward to Owner's Role
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 12, 2004) -- Kevin Harvick believes ownership of his own NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team might give him a whole new perspective on the operation of his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series No. 29 Chevrolet team.
"It's definitely going to help me better understand all the things that Richard Childress has to do," said Harvick prior to wrapping up Monday's NASCAR Preseason Thunder test with driver Matt Crafton (No. 6 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet).
It was Childress, in fact, who helped Harvick make the decision to move from part-time to full-season owner in 2004. Harvick assembled his own team in 2002 and since has won series events back-to-back at Phoenix International Raceway.
"When we built the team, we didn't have the feeling there was an opportunity to win races," said Harvick. "Our success elevated our thinking. Richard's been a huge help. He's (Richard Childress Racing) doing all of our motors."
Harvick's venture marks a return to the series of sponsor GM Goodwrench, which backed Childress from 1995 through 1999. RCR won the inaugural title with Mike Skinner (No. 42 Toyota) and four races with Jay Sauter.
Skinner, well-known on the west coast, didn't find national acclaim until being tapped by Childress. Crafton, a former NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southwest Series champion, appears cut from the same cloth.
The 27-year-old Tulare, Calif. native starts his fourth NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season but first for a contending team. Crafton posted his third top-15 championship finish -- a career best 11th -- as he collected 11 top-10 postings for Thorsport Racing.
"You get where you overdrive the truck and I've got to slow myself down a bit like I've had to do for the last three years and try to make up for what it's not doing," said Crafton. "You've got to be able to lead races and not have to drive quite as hard and that's what we're going to do this year."
It was Crafton's go-fast tendency, however, that impressed Harvick -- himself a charger.
"Matt is aggressive; that's how a race driver should be," said Harvick. "I see a lot of the same enthusiasm in Matt that I hope I see in myself and showed in myself. Hopefully, we can give him the stuff to show what he is made of and he'll find his own niche."
Crafton looks forward to returning to Daytona International Speedway for the Feb. 13 Florida Dodge Dealers 200 (SPEED Channel, 8 p.m. ET) but is under no illusion that the race -- or the following 24 -- will be easy.
"Last year and the year before you had 10 competitive trucks," said Crafton, whose fast lap speed of 182.760 mph ranked second among drivers participating in NASCAR Preseason Thunder. "Now there are 20 to 25."
NEWS OF NOTE
* Gordon still faces learning curve in sophomore season ... Because she wasn't able to run a full, 25-race season in 2003, Tina Gordon (No. 13 Chevrolet), still has problems thinking of herself as a veteran. "It's going to be weird not having to go to rookie meetings," said Gordon, who recently signed to drive for Thorsport Racing, one of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series' longest running teams. "But I'm still going to the meetings at the tracks where we didn't race."
A year ago, Gordon tested at Daytona with one team, began the season with another and ran on a race-to-race basis while seeking a sponsorship that didn't materialize. She drove one of Duke Thorson's Chevrolets at Kentucky Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway, finishing 13th at the latter event to match her career series performance.
Thorson and crew chief Jerry Cook liked what they saw. When Crafton elected to change seats, Gordon was their first choice.
"I was looking for the right opportunity and this is the right opportunity for me," said Gordon, a mother of one. "Being able to run the full season means a lot."
The Thorsport team had a solid NASCAR Preseason Thunder, posting times among the top 15 including a fast lap of 180.281 mph.
* Hines going back to his roots for one more week ... Tracy Hines (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet) was a late arrival at NASCAR Preseason Thunder Sunday, having finished ninth in the previous night's U.S. Auto Club National Midget Championship Chili Bowl in Tulsa -- a race that drew 214 entries. Hines, USAC's 2000 Silver Crown and 2001 sprint car champion, left Daytona on Monday night for the first leg of a trip back to Auckland, New Zealand, where he's been driving midgets since late December.
"We haven't been very good; lots of electrical problems," said Hines of his finishes at Western Springs Speedway, the best of which is a sixth place.
Hines sampled the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series a year ago, competing four times for Ultra Motorsports with a best finish of 11th at Texas Motor Speedway. He'll be fulltime in a second Thorsport entry teaming with Gordon.
The 33-year-old Hines, an Indiana native, has long dreamed of winning the Indianapolis 500. "For a kid growing up in Indiana, that's the one day of the year you wait for," he said of the last Sunday in May.
Hines, however, also has pointed toward a NASCAR career. He previously attempted to qualify for a NASCAR Busch Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway in a car owned by Jimmy Spencer.
"Menards and Thorsport have given me the opportunity I've worked so hard for since I was five years old," said Hines, who settled into his Chevrolet on Jan. 11 and posted the day's 16th fastest speed at 178.204 mph. "It's really fun out there by myself but now we need to do some drafting," he said. "Drafting is just a game of chess, basically, not how the thing is handling but who you're with and how much room they're willing to give you. Any truck is capable of winning the way the draft is."
* Three-time series champ Sprague happy to be back ... Jack Sprague (No. 16 Chevy Trucks Chevrolet) ranks No. 1 in championships (three) and No. 2 in wins (23) and starts (172). He's back on the series fulltime in 2004, after spending two seasons in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and NASCAR Busch Series.
Sprague, 39, is glad to be back and looks to extend Xpress Motorsports' championship streak to three. He enjoyed his time away but in some ways wishes he'd never left.
"I've always loved this series. Moving up with the guys (Hendrick Motorsports) was a blast but it wasn't the right fit for me," said the Spring Lake, Mich. veteran. "Instead of listening to my heart, I listened to other people. Ten years ago it might have been different. The schedule is great; it gives me time to spend with my family."
Sprague said he meshes well with his new team, headed by Xpress general manager Dave Fuge and crew chief Chris Showalter. The relationship reminds him of his championship years with Dennis Connor, now the crew chief of the No. 2 Team ASE Racing/Carquest Dodge driven by Andy Houston.
"Dave and I yell at each other; then we laugh about it," he said.
* ETC. ... Morgan-Dollar Motorsports, headquartered in Oklahoma since its first series race in 1996, has moved its shops to Statesville, N.C. "The guys have done a really great job racing out of Oklahoma but we need to step up," said driver Dennis Setzer (No. 46 Silverado Chevrolet), last year's championship runnerup. ... The No. 59 Dodge, co-tested Monday by Steve Grissom and 2003 NASCAR Dodge Weekly Racing Series champion Mark McFarland, posted the day's fastest single-truck speed of 182.964. Last year's third-place finisher (driven by Robert Pressley) wound up with the test's top speed. ... Monday afternoon's drafting practice saw Sprague lead the way with a lap speed of 187.625. David Starr (No. 75 Spears Manufacturing Chevrolet) was next at 187.621, followed by Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Performance Dodge), Geoffrey Bodine (No. 03 Team EJP Chevrolet) and Frank Kimmel (No. 29 Ford).
* The NASCAR Preseason Thunder Media website is online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/media. Speeds, quotes, daily test reports and hi-res photos from all NASCAR Preseason Thunder test sessions are available for download.
What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder.
Where: Daytona International Speedway.
When: Jan. 6-22.
Track layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Test schedule: Jan. 13-15 -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (Even car owner 2003 point standings finishing positions); Jan. 17-18 -- NASCAR Busch Series (odd); Jan. 20-21 -- NASCAR Busch Series (even).