Team meeting spurs Harvick toward title run
The 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup officially begins for 12 drivers when the green flag drops for Sunday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. But for one driver, Kevin Harvick, the Chase may have begun emotionally two weeks ago at a team me...
The 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup officially begins for 12 drivers when the green flag drops for Sunday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. But for one driver, Kevin Harvick, the Chase may have begun emotionally two weeks ago at a team meeting.
It was a meeting which, several of those in attendance say, is responsible for sending Harvick and his No. 29 Richard Childress Racing team into the Cup playoffs with some significantly serious momentum.
So significantly serious that when you ask if it has given the team a shot at winning it all this year, Harvick crew chief Gil Martin said, "It really has."
Harvick's season began with a nice burst of momentum, as he won three of the first 17 races. To go along with those victories, there were seven other top-10 finishes. The last of those top 10s--a seventh-place finish at Daytona in early July--moved Harvick to the top spot in the points standings.
But Harvick's stay at the top was brief; like, one week. Over the next seven weeks, Harvick would be able to add just one more top 10 and his season sputtered.
Finally, back-to-back finishes of 22nd at Michigan and Bristol prompted team owner Richard Childress to call the team meeting, which commenced early on the Sunday after the Bristol disappointment.
"The Sunday morning meeting wasn't pretty," Harvick said. "Most of the meetings haven't been pretty the last month or so, but we went back and found a lot of things that we felt like we had done a little bit different."
What the No. 29 team had done differently during the swoon, Martin said, was get greedy for victories.
"We got off our game trying to do some things to just win races because I think after we won the three races and kind of thought we were locked into the Chase," Martin said, "we kind of got off our game some trying some things that probably we shouldn't have."
The very next race, at Atlanta, things improved. Harvick's car ran well and he came home seventh.
Then came Richmond last weekend. Harvick won. And with the win, he ran his Chase bonus-point total to 12--which tied him with Kyle Busch for most in the series.
The victory also sends him to Chicagoland with a brisk wind at his back.
"I think last year we felt like ... felt like we were a little behind on the win total, so to be even on the bonus points and the win total is a good accomplishment for us," Harvick said. "I think the momentum is just as important."
The fact that the Chase-opening race has been moved from Loudon, N.H., to Joliet, Ill., this year should give Harvick and his team yet another boost. Harvick is a two-time winner at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Additionally, he has five top-five finishes in his 10 starts there.
His average finish of 11.2 is fourth best among the 12 Chasers.
Although his two victories at Chicagoland came in the first two years the track was open, and that he finished 34th at the place last summer, Harvick feels good about the prospects of getting off to a quick start in the playoffs.
"We struggled a little bit there last year, but we feel like we've done some things to hopefully head in the right direction," Harvick said this week. "It's a very fast racetrack. It's really round, so you carry a lot of momentum through the corners. Hopefully we've got a good plan and can get (the Chase) started off on the right foot."
A foot that may have taken its first step in an ugly team meeting two weeks ago.
What: Geico 400
Where: Chicagoland Speedway
When: Sunday, 1:15 p.m.
TV: ESPN, noon
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90
Track layout: 1.5-mile oval
Race distance: 267 laps/400.5 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 12:40 p.m.
2010 winner: First Chase race
Points leaders: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, 2,012; Jeff Gordon, 2,009; Matt Kenseth, 2,006; Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, 2,003; Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, 2,000.