Kevin Harvick aiming to build on road-course success at The Glen

Published 10:56 pm Saturday, August 11, 2007

Kevin Harvick is still in awe of his heart-stopping victory over Mark Martin in the Daytona 500 and the requisite fame that has come with it.

“I’ve been fortunate to win the Brickyard 400, but there’s nothing that matches the Daytona 500,” Harvick said. “It has an effect worldwide. There’s a lot more to it than a lot of people realize. It’s something I’ve kind of had to learn.”

Though other wins pale in comparison to that signature victory, Harvick counts his triumph in last August’s Nextel Cup race at Watkins Glen International as a breakthrough in his tenure driving for Richard Childress Racing.

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“Personally, it was a major accomplishment in my career,” Harvick said. “We’d been able to win on all the different types of racetracks as we’ve gone through the years, but the road course thing, we always had this little cloud over us. We had been in contention to win and always had things happen. To finally do that was pretty satisfying.”

Beating Tony Stewart made it even more enjoyable.

Stewart has five road course victories since coming to NASCAR in 1999 from open-wheel racing and had won three of the previous five races at The Glen. Harvick passed him for the lead with three laps to go with a gutsy inside maneuver coming out of the 11th and final turn on the 2.45-mile natural terrain road course.

“Any time you succeed at something, you don’t want to have it handed to you,” Harvick said. “It makes it a lot more rewarding to do it against somebody that had been winning all of the races there and been very successful on road courses. To go out and be able to race with Tony was a lot of fun. In the end, it made it that much more rewarding.”

Harvick followed up that road course success in June by finishing second to Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma in the first two road races on the 2007 Cup schedule. The second is Sunday’s 220-mile Centurion Boats at The Glen event.

Preparing for the race will be a guessing game at first for the teams attempting to qualify. NASCAR has not allowed any practice at The Glen in the Car of Tomorrow, forcing teams to test elsewhere to try to simulate what they might encounter on The Glen’s high-speed turns.

“It’s obviously going to change things,” said Harvick, who practiced in July at Virginia International Raceway in preparation for The Glen. “You’re going to have to go through some different gearing, more so than normal. As you get through practice, everybody kind of knows the tendencies of the cars now, and we’ve all tested a lot.”

In the previous two races at Watkins Glen International, cautions dashed the chances of victory for four-time Watkins Glen winner Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch.

In 2005, Gordon’s No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet suffered a flat just past the midway point of the race as a caution flag waved, and a split second before he reached the commitment line to enter pit road the red light went on, signaling the pits were closed. Gordon had no alternative other than continuing into the pit, a violation that relegated him to 37th on the ensuing restart. He finished 14th.

Last August, Busch won the pole, led 36 of the first 53 laps after surviving a hard bump from Kasey Kahne on the first turn of the race, and appeared to have the car to beat. But just past the midpoint of the 90-lap race, Joe Nemechek spun off course and brought out a caution for debris. Busch, following his crew’s instructions, began to head to the pit for tires and fuel. But just as his front tires were about to cross the commitment line, the red light went on. Busch continued and made his stop, then was sent to the rear of the field on the restart as crew chief Roy McCauley kicked a tire in frustration.

“They played Russian roulette there,” Harvick said. “You try to be aware of what the situation is. If you know somebody’s in the sand trap or wrecked, you know that light’s going to come on at some point. If you’re going to take that gamble, hopefully you get there before. When you commit to pit road and you know the light’s going to come on, there’s really no way out. Once you commit, it’s tough to come back.”

A year ago, Harvick was third heading into the Chase for the Nextel Cup championship and this year he’s ninth with five races remaining before the cutoff. Only the top 12 drivers in the standings after the first 26 races of the season qualify to compete for the title.

Harvick, who finished 17th in the Pennsylvania 500 on Sunday, likes his position.

“It’s a lot easier to lose points than it is to gain,” said Harvick, who finished fifth in the final standings to 2006 Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “We just have to keep doing the things we’re doing, try to be as consistent as possible to keep that happening. Last year, we were fortunate to win the last race of the regular season and the first race of the Chase. Then we struggled for three or four weeks.

“Hopefully, we can time it right this year and get the momentum in the Chase instead of right before it.”