A Fresh Start
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), heads to Budweiser Speedweeks at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for a “freaky fast” fresh start with a new team, ready to write the next chapter in his racing career.
The Bakersfield, Calif., native has driven for Richard Childress Racing since making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start in 2001, at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway. That all changes this weekend at Daytona, when Harvick makes his first start for SHR in the Sprint Unlimited – the 75-lap, non-points race that kicks off the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
It’s not to say that Harvick hasn’t enjoyed his fair share of success to this point. He has 23 wins, 100 top-five finishes and 209 top-10s in 466 career starts, and has finished third in the standings three of the last four years. It’s just that he felt a change was needed to elevate himself from a perennial championship challenger to a perennial championship contender. He joins 12 other crew members new to SHR, including crew chief Rodney Childers, who joined the No. 4 team for the 2014 season all looking for that same opportunity.
While there’s plenty of looking forward, there’s a bit of history that gives the No. 4 team something to get even more excited about.
Harvick has three wins in the Sprint Unlimited – 2009, 2010 and 2013 – tying him for second-most with owner and teammate Tony Stewart and the newest member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Dale Jarrett. No matter the condition or circumstance, Harvick’s proven he’s more than capable of getting the job done when it comes to the preseason exhibition race.
In the 2009 Unlimited, Harvick survived an incident-filled race that saw a record eight caution periods and less than half the starting field make it to the checkered flag. The following year, he joined Neil Bonnett, Ken Schrader and Stewart as the fourth driver in event history to win consecutive races, driving a backup car he never got to practice in past Greg Biffle with two laps remaining in a green-white-checkered finish. He was declared the winner when a caution for a multicar incident saw the race finish under the yellow flag. In his 2013 victory, Harvick led 40 of 75 laps, dominating the second and third segments en route to his third victory in five years.
Although the 2014 season officially begins with the Feb. 23 Daytona 500, Harvick and the No. 4 team would like nothing more than to kick off their season a little early by celebrating in victory lane Saturday night at the “The World Center of Racing” – even if it’s in a non-points race. To follow that up with an early “regular-season” win would help secure their 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup berth, the first step toward their ultimate goal of winning the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.
KEVIN HARVICK, Driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
After spending your entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career at Richard Childress Racing, how has the transition been to Stewart Haas Racing?
“It’s been a lot of fun for me. I think hearing Gene (Haas, SHR co-owner) talk about the enthusiasm in the shop, it’s really contagious at this point to tell you the truth, just for the fact that you can walk through the shop and everybody is so excited with all the change and new drivers and things that are going on. You know, I think we’ve had three really good tests, and everything has gone really smooth. I’m excited to have already been in a car, but I’m more excited to get to the racetrack and start racing.”
Your move to Stewart-Haas Racing seems to have many similarities to the move Matt Kenseth made last year when he left Roush-Fenway Racing, where he had spent his career to that point, to join Joe Gibbs Racing. Have you spoken with Matt at all about what to expect as you make the transition?
“I did. You know, I talked to Matt a few times just about how he did things, and I think the one thing I took from him that was probably the best piece of advice you could get was, after Homestead, just hit delete on everything you think and everything you know and just enjoy the learning curve of starting over and figuring everybody out, creating new relationships, learning a different theory on how the car drives and how the engines react, and everything is new. That part has been a lot of fun for me, and I think that was probably the best piece of advice he gave me.”
Talk about this transition for you. How is it going for you?
“The transition has gone really well. You know, I think we were fortunate to recruit (crew chief) Rodney Childers very early in the process – not early, but halfway through the year, and his previous team decided to let him go, and he was able to start early. He was able to spend a lot of time recruiting team members. But the transition has gone very well.
“I think it’s probably gone a lot better than what I expected. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I think as we’ve gone through everything, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been very relaxing, and everybody has been very supportive from SHR and the things we need and the things they’ve done to let the transition just kind of take place and let me be a part of it as much or as little as I wanted to. I’ve been pretty involved in a lot of the things that have gone on, so it’s been a lot of fun, and I feel like we’ve done all the right things. It’s just a matter of getting on the racetrack and racing.”
How much pressure do you put on yourself to win a championship this year?
“I think it’s week to week. Obviously, I feel like our cars are going to be fast, but I also am very realistic about knowing there are going to be some hurdles to overcome. You have to navigate through things and just making sure we take the bull by the horns and navigate through those things correctly. Rodney is very much in control of his team, and I feel like we’ve developed a great relationship over the past few months, so I feel like that part is going really well. I’m trying not to be overconfident about everything I’ve been involved in with these guys so far because it’s all gone so well. It’s kind of scary, actually. But, it’s all I think about. You know, it’s the one trophy in racing I feel has eluded my trophy case, and I’d like to see it put in there sooner rather than later.”
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